Commission approves business grants, BIA letter

By Joe Boyle
Contributing Writer
The San Juan County Commission revisited old agreements, approved grants, and sent a letter regarding a change to a Bureau of Indian Affair procedure during the March 7 meeting.
At their latest meeting members of the commission discussed the use of a $50,000 Local Broadband Planning grant received by the county. 
Mack McDonald, San Juan County Chief Administrative Officer, envisions the use of the grant to hire a consultant to facilitate communication between the seven Navajo chapters of the county and the state regarding broadband internet. 
McDonald explained that there is a disconnect between state and chapter-level operations. Many community members on the reservation lack access to broadband internet despite deals made on state and county levels that should ensure this. 
McDonald explained how a position like this is in San Juan County to help mend communication. 
At the meeting members of the commission also approved a total of 28 projects were awarded from the Rural Grant Fund which comes from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and is intended to be given to local, rural businesses whose business and stated goals will provide economic development for the county and its communities. 
With $175,000 in funds to allocate to local projects, the County Economic Development Board received 42 applications from local businesses and landed on 28 receiving funding. These projects were largely for equipment needs with the board partially funding projects with the plan that the investment will result in a return on investment in the form of taxes collected and jobs created in the county.
Among the awards was $13,000 for Spanish Valley business Climb Moab, and $13,000 for the reopening Bears Ears Inn in Blanding. Awards of $10,000 were given to the Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, Coral Sands RV Park, Mountain Feller Tree Services, and two restaurants in Bluff.
Additional restaurants, lodging, community programs, and more received awards.
The commission also finalized a lease of the agreement for rights to a billboard in Hanksville, Utah. The county will pay a yearly cost of $1,000 to continue to use the billboard as advertising for San Juan County. This agreement is in place to last for 99 years. 
The agreement with J’viation was also reshaped during the meeting. The county entered into a contract for the “Rehabilitation and Lighting Replacement Design and Construction Management” project in 2016 at the county-run Cal Black Airport, near Halls Crossing.
A grant of $20,000 was also received by the county with the purpose of preventing disease outbreaks in homeless shelters. The grant will mainly be used to help shelters in the county stop the spread of Covid-19, but it can also be used more broadly for public health concerns. 
During the Commission report of the meeting, Commissioner Bruce Adams also reported that recent meetings at the state legislature had gone very well. The results of these meetings include nearly double the funding from the State for the road department and an increase of funding towards the San Juan County jail. 
At the meeting members of the commission ratified a letter commenting on a proposed Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) change to regulations for simplification of converting tribal ownership of fee lands to trust lands.
The county sent the letter noting concerns about what those tax-exempt conversions would have on the county tax base and its ability to continue funding government services to those properties.
The letter recommends two alternatives suggested by Duchesne County. One would require the BIA to make payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) payments while another would require that the tribe and local government entities involved develop an agreement on how to fund county services on the tax-exempt lands.

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