Commissioners discuss Spanish Valley, landfill and more

A host of issues were discussed at the August 6 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.

Mark Vlasic, of Landmark Design, discussed the 180-day moratorium that has been placed on commercial development along Highway 191 in Spanish Valley.

Landmark Design, which was hired by San Juan County more than two years ago to develop plans for Spanish Valley, most recently held a workshop on August 5 that was attended by 75 to 80 people.

“The overwhelming majority of people were from Spanish Valley,” said Vlasic, who reported that a wide variety of opinions were represented at the meeting.

Vlasic said three options were presented, including (1) no change to the current plan, (2) five proposed ordinance changes that were developed in the past year, and (3) adjust the proposed ordinances, possibly including a more robust night sky element, limit the development of lodging properties, and coordinate more closely with Grand County and the City of Moab.

Vlasic said the meeting was productive, but added that there are “two very different visions.  How do we balance the two because they are very different?”

Commissioner Bruce Adams said, “There has got to be some middle ground.”

San Juan County facilitated some infrastructure needs in Spanish Valley.  If the county doesn’t benefit, then we did not get what we thought we were going to when we sought the grants and loans for infrastructure.”

Vlasic said there were requests that the two-year project start over again, but he said that was outside the scope of what Landmark was tasked with at the meeting.  

“I disagree with the public who said that the plan should start over,” said Vlasic.  “I think that the two-year planning process and the plan that was developed for Spanish Valley was superlative.  

“Part of it is because it has a new vision for a different type of community that fits in with the area and still provides opportunities for economic growth.

“Picking at it and saying that it is bad because I didn’t participate in it is unfair.”

Vlasic said he hopes people take a close look at the proposals and make specific suggestions rather than stating to start over.

Regarding the Love’s Truck Stop proposal along the highway corridor, Vlasic said the application has been made but is not yet approved.

“The Love’s proposal has a life of its own,” said Vlasic.  “It can’t be taken off the table. The issue is whether or not it meets the requirements of the current zoning.”

Grand County and the City of Moab instituted a ban on new applications for lodging properties, but not until after 1,600 new rooms were already approved.

They plan to develop an “overlay zone” to address new applications.

Commissioners also discussed landfill issues with Randy Rarick, the county landfill manager.

In November, the county increased landfill fees by 47 percent after an audit showed that the operations are not self sustaining.

Rarick said the operation will see an eight percent increase in revenue over budget and anticipates that expenses will be about 18 percent under budget.

However, major capital projects may cost the landfill hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rarick reports that the county needs to close several storage cells, with an estimated cost of $410,000.  

Rarick said new technology may be simpler and could reduce the cost of closing a cell by 60 percent.  However, they would need to modify the operating plan in order to use the new technology.

Rarick suggested the county contract with an engineering firm to manage the process.

It may require equipment purchases of up to $300,000 in used equipment or $1 million for new equipment.

Rarick also discussed aging equipment for landfill operations. “We have 20- to 25-year-old equipment that is breaking down constantly.”

Commissioner Bruce Adams said, “You have overwhelmed us with information.  As near as I can tell, everything is broken down, nothing works, and we are in trouble.”

Sheriff Jason Torgerson discussed issues regarding compensation for public safety officers.

“Compensation in San Juan County is probably the lowest in the surrounding area,” said Torgerson, who expressed frustration that two officers recently left the county for higher-paying jobs.

A sergeant with 11 years experience was making $21.94 an hour for the Sheriff’s Department and is now making $27.50 an hour as regular patrol officer in Grand County.

The hourly rate for a similarly-experienced officer is $26.97 in Blanding, $30.10 for the Utah Highway Patrol, and $37.50 for a UHP sergeant.

Another officer, with five years of experience, recently left for the City of Moab. 

He was earning $19.20 an hour at the county, compared to $24 in Moab, $24.50 for the UHP, $20.57 in Monticello, and $23.15 in Blanding

“With this, we become a training ground for other agencies,” said Torgerson.  He said it is expensive and time consuming to train an officer and takes several years to recoup the investment.

Commisioner Kenneth Maryboy said the county needs to keep law enforcement officers happy and motivated and expressed an interest in addressing the issue.

In other matters at the Commission work session, Susan White, of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining, discussed abandoned mines in San Juan County and the range of activities to manage the mines. 

Candace Bear, of the U.S. Census, discussed the count that takes place every ten years.  Bear requested the county partner with the Census to reach every county resident.  The Census takes place in 2020.

Ronnie Nieves, of the Public Health Department, gave an update regarding mosquitos.

Monitoring began on the San Juan River on July 23 and has included a number of areas, including areas east of Monticello.

“If you have a problem, give us a call,” said Nieves. “We can stop the mosquito breeding process.”

Nieves encouraged local residents to get rid of stagnant water, old tires, junk around the house, and unused water troughs. “If you get rid of that, it will reduce the population dramatically.”

Nieves said West Nile Virus has not been detected in San Juan County.

Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy asked for a letter from San Juan County to ask the Navajo Nation to enforce regulations on their side of the river.

“We have been asking directly, but so far nothing,” said Maryboy.

County Attorney Kendall Laws addressed two issues with the Commission, including arbitration with a contractor involved in installing the Spanish Valley sewer infrastructure and an appeal by Pacificorp of their centrally-assessed properties in San Juan County.

The open meeting started with a moment of silence for the victims of several recent tragedies.

Public comment was expressed by Monticello resident Shanon Brooks, who invited Commissioners to an August 21 town hall meeting at Monticello High School hosted by Citizens of San Juan County.

Brooks expressed frustration that he was not allowed to be on the commission meeting agenda to discuss a citizen’s initiative regarding county government.

Blanding resident Wendy Black asked about the status of hiring a permanent county administrator to replace interim administrator David Everitt.

Commissioners stated they are in negotiation with an applicant and should have an announcement soon.

Bill Love, of Spanish Valley, urged the protection of the Pack Creek drainage, including where it passes the proposed Love’s Truck Stop location.

Carolyn Daily, of Spanish Valley, said she attended the August 5 Landmark meeting with Landmark Design, and reported that it was not as positive as was previously reported.

A public hearing was held regarding bonding for the new road department warehouse, shop, and headquarters in Monticello.

Bonding for the $1.8 million project was approved.  Half of the funds for the building are from a grant from the Utah Community Impact Board.

Commissioners approved the transfer of the West Park property in Bluff to the Town of Bluff. 

The original deed for the property required Commission approval before it could be transferred. 

The transfer is one of four pieces to go to the Town of Bluff as the community transfers its obligations and assets to the new entity.

Paul Sonderegger was reappointed to the health care service board, out of county travel was approved for County Recorder David Carpenter, and Commissioners approved a plat for the Yazzie Subdivision near Blanding.

New employees approved by the Commission include Herbert Todachinnie as a corrections officer, Michael Moulton for the promotion of public health promotion, Elsie Dee and Carl Holliday as election liaisons, and Jay Sallee as a Senior Center Aide in Monticello and La Sal.

Commissioners abated $16,830 in penalties and fees on Gouldings property taxes.

The State of Utah had reappraised the property and increased its value by more than double. The property owners appealed the appraisal and are now ready to settle the issue.

The penalties and fees accrued during the appeals process.

Commissioner Willie Grayeyes said he had been told that they pay property taxes and that no services are being provided.

The next Commission meeting will be held in Bluff on August 20 with Bluff City officials.

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