Commissioners discuss northern county issues in last meeting of ‘21

Much of the final San Juan County Commission meeting in 2021 revolved around the northern portion of the county, including discussions regarding overnight overlay applications and the future of fire response in the area.

As part of the December 21 meeting, county commissioners approved the budget for 2022, County Administrator Mack McDonald reports that the county is budgeted to have revenue and expenditures meet at zero this year.

As part of that calculation, McDonald pointed to the health department which, through grants, will be able to make ends meet with their budget.

McDonald also pointed to the library as another department that is trending in a positive direction after both departments have run at a negative in previous years.

Part of the discussion around the budget included an explanation as to why San Juan County is planning to terminate its agreement with Moab Valley Fire.

McDonald pointed out that in 2019, the county paid $46,000 for contract fire services based on assessed value of properties. With the assessed valuation doubling in Spanish Valley, the county plans to find an alternative to paying $80,000 for fire services.

The county plan is to create a volunteer fire service, provide an available engine and lease a location to store the engine for $12,000 a year.

McDonald says the county plans to build a community center on property near the intersection of Spanish Valley Drive and Old Airport Road. The campus would include a community center with space for an ambulance, search and rescue and sheriff services, as well as a permanent fire station.

Until the more permanent structure is built, the county plans to seek grant funds and build a metal building to house the fire engine. Once the permanent structure is in place, the county would use the metal building to house equipment from the road department.

During public comment, five northern county residents voiced concern over the change to services in the area.

Resident Michelle Mefret said she’s not necessarily opposed to having a volunteer fire department but is concerned about the sudden end to the contract with Moab Valley Fire.

“I don’t think the people of Pack Creek would appreciate not having that response,” said Mefret, “being that Moab Valley Fire Department was first in there protecting those houses.

“So I’d like you to reconsider this decision. Let’s take some time to plan out this future volunteer fire department for our end of the valley.”

With three volunteers identified and plans to recruit more, the county believes they can meet the fire obligations in Spanish Valley based on the number of incidents that usually occur in the area.

McDonald reports that through six months in 2021, San Juan County received five responses to the area. In 2020, nine responses were sent to Spanish Valley residences and 13 responses were sent in 2019.

In the event of a major fire, a mutual aid agreement would ensure surrounding departments would respond to fires in the area, as departments across the region responded to the Pack Creek Fire in summer of 2021.

McDonald speculated that an existing volunteer fire department in Spanish Valley could have possibly minimized the damage from the Pack Creek Fire.

Commissioner Bruce Adams emphasized all fire departments in the county are volunteers.

“It sounds to me like we are going to be treating Spanish Valley the same way we do all the other entities in San Juan County,” said Adams. “We are not providing more service for them than we are anyplace else in the county.

“We are not providing less service for them than we do any place else in the county.”

In their meeting, the commission also approved the first of three steps for several overnight overlay zone requests in Spanish Valley.

The move was also met with anxiety by some members of the Spanish Valley community, who voiced concerns about missing details from the plan.

With assurances that the county would continue to follow the multi-step approval process, the commission approved the first of three potential approvals for the requests.

The commission also finalized maps for redistricting of the San Juan County Commission and San Juan School Board voting districts.

A story about the approved maps was published in the December 29 issue of the San Juan Record and can also be found at

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