County Commission approves employee premium changes, adjusts property values

by David Boyle
News Director
The San Juan County Commission approved changes to employee health premiums, adjusted some property values, and canvassed election results at their latest meeting.
At the November 22 meeting, commissioners unanimously voted to approve changes to county employee health premiums.
While the approved change will mean county employees pay a percentage of health premiums, county administration hopes the results of a wage study will see county employees coming out ahead financially.
The approved change to county employee health insurance will have county employees with less than five years of experience at the county paying 15-percent of health premiums, while the 74 county employees with five or more years will pay 8-percent of health premiums.
The higher end of cost for some employees on family plans would be about $200 a month for the premium. County Recorder Cindi Holyoak provided public comment at the meeting.
“I’m hoping that you’re taking into consideration the inflation that the employees are facing right now. The high gas prices, the high grocery prices, and a $200 increase in what they’re going to have to pay is not a very kind gesture at this point.”
Holyoak also mentioned the concern of other area entities hiring away San Juan County employees.
Speaking at the meeting County Administrator Mack McDonald recognized that concern and emphasized that while the county is increasing premiums it also is planning to increase wages for many employees.
“We’ll have the wage compensation study done here in December. So hopefully we can tie the two where it’s not as hurtful to the employees when they see on the flip side of it we’re bringing their wages up to a competitive level.”
Also voicing concern at the meeting was Public Health Director Grant Sunada. Sunada said he recognized that while balancing the upcoming budget is a challenge, he hopes to see the county tackle the challenge together.
“If this has to happen we’d appreciate forming a committee with representation of employees so that their perspectives can be heard. Perhaps we can put this on the agenda for a work session with the commission so we can talk it through and adjust and understand all the various levels of impact on the employee level.”
McDonald reported the change to employee premiums will save the county $300,000 annually. McDonald also shared that Juab County was the only other county in Utah that covered 100-percent of employee premiums and that Juab County is not entirely self-funded.
Commissioner Bruce Adams added that they’ve heard from department heads that wages need to go up. Adams recommended that county employees stick around to see the results of the wage study.
“If we’re going to be fair on the market side we’ve got to be fair on the insurance side to the taxpayers. We can’t have a Cadillac plan and then bring everybody up to market, wage-wise. It’s kind of a tough double-hit on the taxpayers.
“Taxpayers deserve being treated fairly as well, which is why we’re looking at a more fair compensation plan with insurance. We’re certainly going to try and bring our salaries up to where they’re competitive.”
The commission voted unanimously to approve the changes to the health premiums, the results of the wage study are expected to be delivered in December.
At the meeting members of the commission also went into board of equalization to consider 28 adjustments to the values of properties in the county. All but one adjustment was approved, that being a request by Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) requesting that a parcel valued at just shy of $280,000 be exempt.
County Assessor Rick Meyer explained that UNHS had applied for tax-exempt status for the first time this year under its work providing charitable services. While the exemption applies this year for almost all UNHS properties, the commission voted to not grant the exemption to a parcel located in Blanding. 
Commissioner Willie Grayeyes made the motion to disclude the parcel.
“We’re talking about funding shortages. Why offer zero just to be under nonprofit organization status, under 501c3. When the state steps into the county and tells them to give this company a break, I don’t think that’s right.”
Meyer added that UNHS applied for and was granted exemption status this year, but as the result of adopting statutes this past summer, the commission would be able to vote on exemption status for all applying entities each year in the spring.
At the meeting, the commission also approved low-income abatements for 20 county property owners including seven veterans.
At the meeting, the commission also unanimously voted to form a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
The requirement for the council by the start of 2023 comes from the passage of state Senate Bill 179.
The bill’s stated purpose of the council is to coordinate and improve components of the criminal justice system in the county.
The council requires varied representation including one county commissioner, the county sheriff or a designee, a chief of police from a municipality or designee, the county attorney, a public defender, a district court and justice court judge, as well as representation from corrections departments, mental health agencies, and victims advocates.
The council will begin meetings at the start of next year.
The Commission also made another action related to the local criminal justice system.
At the meeting, McDonald explained that the county is looking for a new public defender after Happy Morgan provided notice of resignation in September. Morgan has been the county’s contracted public defender since 2011.
Following a request for qualifications, McDonald brought the commission the option to issue a notice of award to Thomas D. Sitterud.
Sitterud has worked as a public defender in San Juan County when conflicts require more than one public defender in the county. 
Sitterud’s proposal would cost the county an additional $48,000 a year for services. The Commission’s unanimous notice of award does not finalize the contract but gives county staff the opportunity to negotiate the proposed contract.
During their meeting members of the commission also unanimously voted to approve general election results. There were 5,787 ballots cast in the election with 7,908 registered voters for 73.18-percent turnout for the midterm election.
Additional analysis of the election results will be in a future edition of the San Juan Record.

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