Nearly 200 new voters for election
by Scott Burton
At the October 20 meeting of the San Juan County Commission:
• Nearly 200 new voters in San Juan County have registered for the November 4 General Election, a number that surprised county officials. County Clerk Norman Johnson reports that the new registrations are from all areas of the county and do not seem to be the result of a single party effort to register voters.
Because there are no contested local elections and just a few contested state elections, officials attribute the registration numbers to intense interest in the presidential race and growth in San Juan County.
• Commissioners discussed the joint funding agreement for water gauges on North Creek and Spring Creek in the Abajo Mountains. The US Geologic Survey notified the county that it can provide only $13,000 of the $29,000 annual cost of running the monitors. They are connected via satellite to provide instant results.
Commissioners instructed county planner Evan Lowry to investigate alternatives, including eliminating the satellite hookup and sending someone to read the sites every month or so.
• The health insurance coverage provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield was the topic of a lengthy discussion. Commissioners are concerned about a proposed 19.9 percent increase in the administrative costs for the program. In the previous year, administrative costs increased 13 percent.
County Human Resource Specialist Cyndi Eldredge asked why administrative costs are increasing at a rate higher than the 10 percent growth in health care costs.
The total contract would have a 15 percent increase in the total cost, with no increase in the coverage.
Kris Black and John Morrell, of Blue Cross Blue Shield, said that the San Juan County benefits program is “one of the best employee plans out there.”
County employees pay six percent of the total benefit and San Juan County pays the remaining 94 percent. In addition, Blue Cross provides better national coverage, which is important in San Juan County because of nearby health care providers that are located out of the State of Utah.
Commissioner Bruce Adams said, “One of the best things we have going in the county is our benefits package. Some of our wages are not as competitive so we need to be careful with changing our benefits package.
There is no proposed increase in the life insurance program provided by the county.
The renewal date for the benefits contract is January 1. Commissioners instructed Eldredge and County Administrator Rick Bailey to investigate the options. The intent is to make a decision by November or mid-December.
• Rick Bailey reported to the commission that the jail expansion project is on hold until economic conditions improve. The county is seeking a large grant to help fund a significant increase in the capacity of the county jail, which also houses state prison inmates. Bailey reports that grant funding has dried up and the county cannot secure a bond to build the facility without a grant.
Commissioners instructed Bailey to finalize the plans for the jail expansion and then shelve them until a later date.
• The faltering national economy may also slow progress on construction of a new reservoir in San Juan County. Norman Johnson, of the water conservancy district, reports that economic problems and water rights issues are slowing progress on the proposed Clay Draw and Gordon’s Reservoir projects. Commission Lynn Stevens suggested that a Dry Wash project would not have problems with water rights.
• High gas prices have contributed to a county landfill that is $30,000 over budget. Commissioners discussed a $3 per ton increase in the dumping fees at the county landfill. Commissioner Stevens said that the increase may create more of a problem if county residents dump waste on public lands instead of using the landfill.
Rick Bailey said a rate increase could create a ripple effect, as the cities may increase their dumping rates. Bailey added that any reserves in the landfill accounts from years that were profitable is set aside to purchase new equipment. As a result, Bailey said that dumping rates at the landfill will likely increase from $22 to $25.
• Commissioners discussed the closure of a trailer park in Montezuma Creek.
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy reported that the trailer park was closed by Indian Health Services because of unlivable and hazardous conditions. The Aneth Chapter passed a resolution to demolish the park, but the status of those who lived in the park, and where they can live until a new park is available, has not yet been determined.