Blanding City Council cancels Fourth of July events

After a lengthy discussion and input from legal counsel and health officials, the Blanding City Council voted 3-2 to cancel the 2020 Independence Day events sponsored by the city. Councilmembers Logan Monson and Cheryl Bowers voted against the measure.
Much discussion centered around the requirement that gatherings be limited to 1,000 people as long as the city could “ensure” social distancing measures could be followed.
Mayor Joe Lyman said, “If it’s over 1,000 people, it’s not authorized... As much as everyone would love to have a fantastic Fourth of July, I don’t believe it is legal to do so.”
Kendall Laws, legal counsel for Blanding, pointed out the city responsibility to “ensure” social distancing measures be followed is steep.
Laws said, “You’re pushing that off on law enforcement. There would be no way they would have enough bodies to ensure that people comply with that...You’d be asking Chief Bradford to do the absolute impossible.”
Councilmember KD Perkins reasoned, “What about our vulnerable population that doesn’t have someone to shop for them or get their medication?
“When we invite a large number of people here, we are potentially exposing that vulnerable population. That’s not very responsible.”
Councilmember Logan Shumway said, “What makes the Fourth of July good is there is so much of it. I don’t like doing a little bit. When we do it, let’s do all of it.”
Councilmember Bowers argued a fireworks show could happen with reasonable social distancing measures in place. She said, “I just have faith that families will stay together like they’re supposed to.”
Mayor Lyman clarified, “This isn’t telling people they can’t celebrate the Fourth of July or Memorial Day or anything else – it’s just that the city could put themselves in a bad situation if it is a city-sponsored event.”
The mayor and councilmembers worry that a big celebration could cause a new outbreak. Blanding City also had the first confirmed COVID-19 death on the day of the meeting.
Mayor Lyman said, “Things can change so quickly. The Navajo Nation outbreak is still tied to those two or three large events. The scope of that - you’re almost guaranteed to have a major outbreak and then you’re right back to red.”
Councilmember Robert Turk, longtime organizer of the Fourth of July celebration, made the motion to cancel.
The council did add a caveat to the motion, reasoning something could take place if the state moved to green-coded restrictions by June 9.
City Manager Jeremy Redd updated the council on how city recreation activities will look under yellow-coded guidelines. A recent change in the guidelines eliminates the requirement for social distancing in the pool, which would also eliminate the need for the city to restrict the number of people allowed into the pool facility.
The large pool deck in Blanding would be able to accommodate social distancing measures. More employees would be hired specifically to help with social distancing, as well as clean the pool chairs after occupants left.
As for baseball and softball, every player will have their own batting helmet. Bats would need to be cleaned between batters.
An extra set of catcher equipment was ordered for each team and teams are asked to only use two catchers. Bleachers will be removed and families will need to bring their own chairs.
In other business, City Finance Director Kim Palmer reports the financial status of the city is “looking good!” She also summarized some key data points from Utah Leads Together 3.0.
Utah unemployment numbers are the lowest in the country at 9.6 percent. Comparatively, San Juan County has unemployment of 8.5 percent, which is up from 6.2 percent in February. Nationally, the unemployment rate sits at 21.5 percent.
The report for Utah stated, “We believe that employment losses have peaked. Labor market activity, job posting, traffic counts, and taxable data illuminate these findings.”
More than 20,000 new jobs are currently listed, and 70 percent of unemployment claims come from employees who expect to return to their workplace.
As for sales tax, there has been a 51 percent reduction in the amount collected for room tax, but a 37 percent increase for food and beverage, a 21 percent increase for home improvement, and a 21 percent increase in general merchandise.
The report also said San Juan County has the second-highest rate of coronavirus in the state including numbers from the Navajo Nation.
The council adopted the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget. The total city budget sits at $10,994,273. “It’ll be a tricky year with the COVID-19 virus,” remarked Mayor Lyman.
City Engineer Terry Ekker reports the transportation master plan should be getting back on track with the status of the state now in yellow. The city is planning an open house for Wednesday, June 10 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Property owners of parcels affected by the transportation master plan will be getting notices in the mail. All other citizens are also invited to attend.

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