No large tax increase for San Juan County
San Juan County does not plan to implement a significant increase in property tax rates at the current time. The decision was discussed at the April 7 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.
A potential rate hike had been discussed during Truth in Taxation hearings in December. The Commission initially determined to wait until property values were released in May before considering whether or not to implement the tax hike.
Even though the property values have not been released and the county will face unknown impacts due to the coronavirus shutdown, the Commission stated in a resolution that the “county will not increase our rates to businesses and citizens as originally proposed in the Truth in Taxation hearings.”
As a result, the county does not intend to increase taxes beyond the standard certified rate.
With a cap on revenues, the county will take aggressive steps to control expenses.
The resolution directs county departments to “halt all expenditures, purchases, and contracts other than those deemed essential…until further notice.
“Essential expenditures and purchases are those deemed critical and vital to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the public.”
“This puts everything in our budget on hold,” said County Administrator Mack McDonald. “It will require a drastic remodification to our budget.”
The resolution instructs the county to further “restrict and reallocate funding originally set aside for the PRCA rodeo, county mud bog, scheduled conferences, travel, trainings, and other non-essential allocations.”
The budget and timeline for the county fair will be adjusted and modified.
In addition, the resolution initially considered by the Commission directed the County Administrator to “notify all cities and towns within the county to the cancellation of all executed interlocal agreements or renegotiate those agreements.”
During the meeting, the Commission significantly reworded the initial resolution.
“The intent is not to cancel the interlocal agreements,” explained Commissioner Adams. “It is to renegotiate.”
A new interlocal agreement was approved with the City of Blanding in 2018, and the agreement for the Town of Bluff is only a few months old. The City of Monticello has not had a new interlocal agreement since 2002.
The interlocal agreements outline a wide variety of government functions that are shared between the county and the municipalities, including airport maintenance, road repair, snow removal, fire equipment, recreation program funding, Transient Room Taxes (TRT) and more.
“These are mutual aid agreements that need to continue,” said Adams. “We just need to renegotiate some of the terms within those agreements.”
McDonald said the process will start as the entities identify essential services in each community. He adds that TRT funding will be significantly impacted by the pandemic.
The Commission meeting was held electronically, with approximately ten county officials joining Commissioners through technology.
The first order of business was the approval of an ordinance that allows electronic meetings. The anchor location of the meeting was the commission chambers in Monticello.
Commission Chairman Kenneth Maryboy explained the need for electronic meetings by saying, “Too many things are happening out there, and we don’t want to expose anybody to a bug. We will hold these meetings through conference call until this thing blows over.”
The meeting was streamed live over the internet, but there was no opportunity for direct public input. Even though the standard public comment period was suspended, comments from the public could be sent via email to be forwarded to the Commissioners.
Midway through the meeting, ten public comments that had been sent were read to the Commission. The majority addressed the preliminary Commission intent to suspend the interlocal agreements with local municipalities.
Commissioners also declared a local state of emergency due to the coronavirus. While a state of public health emergency had previously been declared by the public health department, this statement is from the Commission for the entire county.
The declaration was approved unanimously but not until after Commissioner Adams expressed concern about the suspension of bear hunting in the county.
Adams said San Juan County is the only county to suspend bear hunting, and it impacts the livelihood of local guides.
Kirk Benge, director of the San Juan Public Health Department, said the order of Utah Governor Gary Herbert is that leisure travel is prohibited and added that bear hunting was a recreational activity.
San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws suggested an exception for bear hunting may require similar exceptions for other activities, such as guided river tours.
“We can’t exempt one activity and keep the restrictions on similar activities,” said Laws.
In other matters, Doug Christensen was appointed to fill an open spot on the San Juan Health Service District Board. Christensen fills the seat previously held by Guy Denton.
Two seats on the San Juan Water Conservancy District board were filled by Terry Ekker of Blanding and Matt Sword of Mexican Hat.
Commissioners approved a four-year plan for Aging and Adult Services and approved an ordinance regulating noxious weeds in the county.
Commissioners ratified an interlocal agreement with the Navajo Nation that will allow county road crews to maintain approximately 75 miles of school bus routes on the reservation.
A $20,000 contract was approved with the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts that will assist in a project to develop a rehabilitation plan for the historic Oljato Trading Post.