The <i>San Juan Record</i> looks back on 2012
San Juan County politics dominated the headlines in 2012. The first controversy was a request by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) to restructure the voting districts for county commissioners.
The NNHRC proposal would have split Blanding into three separate voting districts and would have created two districts with a majority of Navajo voters.
Instead of completely restructuring the voting districts, commissioners balanced the existing precincts by moving the Ucolo and Cedar Point precincts from the northern to the central district.
Property values in San Juan County exceeded $1 billion in 2012, including an unprecedented one-year increase of more than $111 million. The dramatic increase in centrally-assessed property values – primarily oil, gas and mining properties – came as the local retail and travel economy was continuing to endure a multi-year economic downturn.
At the same time, the value of commercial properties were reassessed by the San Juan County Assessors office. Values increased dramatically in some areas, including Blanding and Gouldings Lodge in Monument Valley. As a result, some property tax bills more than doubled.
When Commissioners adjusted several of the revaluations, Assessor Howard Randall submitted an appeal to the State of Utah. The outcome of the appeals has yet to be settled as 2012 turns into 2013.
The term “revenue neutral” was heard many times in San Juan County in 2012. The concept is that as property values increase from growth, property tax rates would decrease so total tax collections are the same as the prior year.
After tax rates were set, some entities were entirely revenue neutral, while others kept rates the same. In total, most property owners saw a decrease in their total tax bill.
There was only one county election on the general election ballot, but the race for commissioner in the northern district dominated the local news.
Incumbent Bruce Adams won another four-year term on the Commission, defeating Democrat challenger Willie GreyEyes and non-party candidate Gail Johnson. Adams won three of the eight precincts and finished a strong second in the other five precincts to earn his third term on the commission.
In other local races, incumbents claimed three spots on the San Juan School Board, including Merri Shumway, Debbie Christiansen and Bill Boyle.
The US presidential race drew local interest, due in part to the Utah ties of Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney won the local vote, but incumbent Barack Obama won another term in the White House.
Public land issues continue to draw attention in San Juan County. After the general election, a group of outdoor retailers drew attention to the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument by sending a letter to President Obama in support of the proposal.
The proposal would create national monument status for millions of acres of public land in San Juan, Grand and Emery counties. In effect, the proposal would create national park, national monument or national forest status for most public land west of Highway 191 or north of Highway 95 in San Juan County.
As 2012 comes to a close, the federal government is threatening to go over the “fiscal cliff”, a forced situation that may result in increased taxes and significant budget cuts. If the government is not able to avoid the fiscal cliff, the impact of the tax increases and budget cuts is not currently known.
A large percent of the local payroll is paid by federal agencies and other organizations tied to government funding. The San Juan School District annually receives up to $6 million a year in Impact Aid from the federal government.
Site preparation began in October for a new elementary school in Monticello. Crew will begin construction as soon as weather allows. The new school, located behind the existing school, is scheduled to open in August 2014.
The weather continued a multi-year trend of drier and warmer than normal temperatures. Farmers had a successful harvest, due in part to a wet fall in 2011.
San Juan County was mostly able to avoid a dangerous wildfire season, primarily through the diligence of fire crews. Wild fires consumed millions of acres throughout the western United States.
After dry weather through most of the year, a series of anxiously awaited year-end snowstorms give hope for a year of adequate precipitation.
The 2012 graduating class at Monticello High School brought home five trophies during the school year, including championship trophies for volleyball and boys cross country and runner-up trophies for wrestling, boys track and girls track.
The San Juan High School football team had another dominating year. The Broncos raced to an undefeated regular season and fell in an overtime thriller to Manti on a record-breaking field goal.
San Juan County residents enjoyed a beautiful summer with a host of annual celebrations, including Independence Day celebrations in Blanding, Pioneer Day celebrations in Monticello and San Juan County fairs in Monticello and Bluff.