San Juan County Commission holds tax rates steady
by Roma Young
Good news for business and homeowners in the county as the San Juan County Commission voted for a rate neutral tax rate for the 2015-16 tax year. The decision was made at the June 30 meeting of the Commissioners.
Three options were considered by the Commission. They include the certified rate, which would have increased tax rates; a revenue neutral rate, which would have increased tax rates; and a rate neutral rate, which keeps the same tax rate as the prior year.
The rate neutral approach means that the county will collect nearly $575,000 less in property taxes in 2015-16, than it did in 2014-15.
This is driven by a $176 million drop in the value of centrally-assessed properties, including oil, gas and mining properties.
Commissioners said the county is committed to maintain the same services to residents but on a much tighter budget.
They acknowledge that this may require the use of money from the fund balances which have been held by the county for decades.
Commissioners said this will not be sustainable on a long-term basis, but they are hopeful the values of centrally-assessed properties will rebound.
In addition to a decrease in the value of the tax base, the county also faces increased costs due, in part, to assuming management of the public health district and the possible hire of a new assistant county attorney.
Based on the recommendation of the two incorporated cities in San Juan County, the county will hold an election this year to allow residents the opportunity to vote on whether or not they want to approve a local option sales tax. The option to approve the tax is included in House Bill 362, which was passed this year by the Utah State legislature.
If passed, the county would collect 0.25 percent tax to be included in a statewide pool. It can be used by participating counties to make road improvements.
This is a gas tax so it would be charged by the county on all gas sold in the county, not just that sold to county residents.
Commissioners said it should be interesting to study the proposal and see what the residents of San Juan County think at the end of the election.
Worthy Glover Jr., of San Juan Public Health, had several items to discuss with commissioners. He has several open positions, including someone to manage the Women Infant and Children (WIC) contracts, another for a part-time dietician, and someone to be designated as the Director of Nursing and Director of WIC.
The hiring of Cheyna Palmer was approved for the dietician position, with a 20 hour per month job description and an annual salary of $10,640, which includes some training.
Glover requested that two nurses employed by the district be appointed as directors, with an increase in salary for the new duties.
The decision on the salary increases were tabled for the time being, as well as a request by County Attorney Kendall Laws to advertise for a Deputy Attorney.
With the previous discussion regarding a tightened budget, the commissioners said they wanted to study the job descriptions and make an informed decision on these matters, which involve a long-term commitment of funds.
Glover also informed the commissioners of the recent resignation of Dr. David Patton as Director of the Utah State Department of Health. He said this has further delayed state contracts to receive payment for services already provided.
Glover said that when the contracts do arrive, the payments should be retroactive to May 1.
The county will organize public hearings on the Modified Alternative B, which was approved by the Public Lands Council.
The recommendation will be considered by the Commission for the proposed Bishop Lands Bill in Congress.
Maps showing the recommendation, and the specific land designation in each section, are being prepared so the process can move forward again.