Southern Utah News Articles
County Commission addresses salary issues and proposes tax cuts
There was a question on salaries during the public input section at the September 26 Kane County Commission meeting. Commissioner Doug Heaton answered that the pay for elected officials is salary and not hourly. “We could work part time, but that means missing a lot of meetings where Kane County needs to be represented.”
Commissioner Dirk Clayson asked, “Do we attempt to address the issues and be proactive, or do we remain as now and hire other people to do the work?” Clayson continued, “the commissioners want to be proactive with the economy and just waiting for it to change will not solve the problem.” The commissioners made it clear there would be no tax increase.
Agenda item ‘Reconsider Elected Officials Salaries brought about 12 people to the meeting. Although it was not a public hearing, Commission Chair Heaton consulted the attorney, so legally the public there could ask questions and make comments.
Clayson said he had taken a survey. About 60% felt the increase should be about half what was proposed. About 30% felt the increase should stay where recommended. About 10% felt it should remain as is, or a small change.
Heaton outlined some of the Kane County concerns before the commission that combined, have increased the time demands on the commissioners. They are: economic development, helping the private sector flourish, and the impact and intrusion of the federal government and its restrictions.
•Protect uranium mining – estimates are for 30 years it will generate $39 million annually. A two million dollar study just completed reports there is no impact for environment or health from mining or reclamation.
•Oppose wilderness designations. It becomes roadless.
As an example, the Forest Service has closed half of the roads on Dixie National Forest. The Fly Catcher Habitat designation is very similar to wilderness designation, and prevents private enterprise.
The Army Corps of Engineers has the Virgin River, Paria and Kanab Creek as navigable rivers, and the RS 2477 roads, plus the Crown Jewels. Interior Secretary Salazar is wanting counties to select and agree to areas for wilderness designation.
“The duties of the commission are overwhelming. The increase in salary is a chance to pursue all of the concerns, rather than pick and choose. The increased time commitment is essential for overall well-being in the private sector.” Matson added, “The process adopted will attract qualified people in the future.”
Marlene Barnes asked, “What do you think is fair and the public would accept? Many people here are over-educated for their jobs and they have taken pay cuts. I don’t see any connection between money and time spent.”
Heaton responded, “We have had to practice selective neglect. We are committing increased effort.”
When asked, “Why didn’t you tell us of your plans about the salary increase?”
Attorney Van Dyke responded that according to law, the county couldn’t decide previous to an open meeting with a published agenda.
Sheriff Smith said the plan presented made the salaries equitable and an average within the state for smaller counties. He said it is not the commissioners giving themselves a raise, it is the process. The commission adopted a model. The salary parity survey was initiated by the previous administration.
Matson said the findings were that Kane County was out of line with the rest of the state, and with counties the same size.
All of the commissioners agreed that with full time, they would not need to hire as many lobbyists, attorneys and consultants that cost the county up to $100 per hour. Ken Gotsen-Berg told the commissioners they need better public relations.
At the close of this section on salary parity, Commissioner Clayson made three points to the audience.
1) How many people think we have a poor economy? All agreed. Then he said the three largest segments of our county are all-time highs, tourism non-profit (Best Friends), and government. We are grateful for this, but we still have a poor economy.
2) Areas identified for economic development? Natural resources can generate a better sustainable income for families. The goal is jobs with an income that will support a family.
3) With technology sector jobs, “We have to incubate the process. They will not start on their own. Clayson continued, “Without direction, strategic initiatives and leadership on our part, I am afraid the economy will continue as is.”
Clayson indicated the commission recognizes and needs community support. They recognize the concern over taxes and the community recognizes that our economy is bad. With those assumptions, he proposed they (commissioners) voluntarily reject the increase until the following two items are accomplished. 1) A minimum of 10% reduction in property tax collections, and 2) the employee wage parity is dealt with first. “Our goal is to restore public trust.” The 10% reduction would be $355,000 to the county budget. Heaton and Matson agreed to accept this proposal.
Randal Taylor, UDOT Environmental Engineer, updated the commissioners on progress for the deer crossings. For the past two years, Utah Department of Transportation and sportsman organizations have been working on a plan for a deer crossing between mile markers 36.8 to 48.2 on Highway #89 east of Kanab.
The plan calls for a special kind of fencing to guide deer to a large culvert under the highway where they can cross the road safely. Because of the limited distance deer are willing to travel to look for a crossing opportunity, four crossings are needed. Their studies show that wildlife vehicle collisions are a major problem for road users and for mule deer.
The $2.4 million project is dependent on a large variety of partners. Although some money is still needed, most of the money has been allocated by various organizations. Kane County has applied for enhancement funds. There is a similar project south of Cedar City on I-15.
Ken Sizemore, Five County Association of Governments, had the rough draft for an update on the General Plan. Counties are incorporating their Resource Management Plans and dealing with public lands, as well as their General Plan, which deals with private lands. The document is available on the website www.kane.ut.gov
The public can make comments. On October 12 there will be a public hearing at the Kane County Planning Commission. On October 24 is the public hearing with the Kane County Commission.
The commission discussed several items they wanted to make sure were clear, and then asked Sizemore for hints for successful implementation of the General Plan.
The commission approved a change in the process of appointing board members. For new appointees, they will continue interviewing prospective members. For existing board members who re-apply, there is no need for the interview unless they request it.
Also approved by resolution was a revision of the Resource Committee by-laws. Now included, representatives of federal agencies may sit in as ex-officio members.
Attorney Van Dyke told the Commissioners that the state requires that each county have a policy on storing nuclear waste. The discussion was to have a policy of denial to store nuclear waste. The county has limited private ground for growth and development.
A half marathon for suicide prevention was proposed for the summer of 2012. The proposal is to use Johnson Road. The county will prepare the necessary permits.
Clayson reported on the Utah Association of Counties conference he attended. One item from the conference is, should counties have as part of their plan what should be wilderness? Kane has several Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) that are not designated wilderness, but are managed as wilderness. At the conference, there was also discussion on how and to what extent should counties involve the state for a more unified front.
Another issue at the conference was Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding. Last year, Kane County received $160,000. SRS funds are split between the county and school district. The Utah delegation in Congress, under the leadership of Representative Bishop, is proposing Trust projects on the forest land. It’s an effort to fix the problem with work and better management of the timber industry.
With their proposal, the process will reduce the cost to manage the forest and generate revenue. That would bring revenue to the county and promote private industry. If put into action, the plan would generate more than $160,000. The bill is in the preliminary stages in Congress.