The Kane County Commission met on April 21, 2020, at 10 a.m. Due to precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the meeting was live streamed for the public at www.kane.utah.gov/livestream.

The commission opened with the consent agenda and approved the minutes from the meetings that took place on March 24, April 2 and April 7.

The commission subsequently went into public hearing as Resource Department Records Officer Adé Nelson read a notice regarding the success of Kane County’s application for a Community Development Block Grant to make ADA access improvements to the Kanab Center. The improvements will include the installation of two wheelchair lifts and will take 10-12 weeks to complete.

Nelson invited anybody with questions about the capital investment plan to contact her or to view the two and five year plans on the county’s website.

County Assessor Ryan Maddox discussed a proposed ordinance conceived in the April 7 meeting, which would waive late fees and interest on property taxes for businesses as many struggle financially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Maddox explained that the ordinance would not change the deadline for the tax, but would waive penalties until August 4 to provide business owners with greater flexibility. He clarified that business owners are still encouraged to file by the May 15 deadline, even if they must delay the actual payment. The commission approved the ordinance.

Camille Johnson Taylor, Executive Director of the Kane County Office of Tourism, gave a presentation on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Kane County’s heavily tourism-dependent economy and proposed a series of new campaigns and projects to assist with the county’s recovery.

According to Taylor’s data, the 28-day period of restricted travel from mid-March to mid-April has cost the county upwards of $9 million, with hotel revenue averaging at only $7 per available room.

County Clerk Karla Johnson stated that, according to the Kem Gardner Foundation, Kane County is projected to see a 48 percent drop in tourism-related revenue, the worst losses in the state of Utah.

Taylor also discussed some of the more positive recent developments. Due to the cancellation of some events formerly planned for the spring and summer, as well as radio and online advertising campaigns, the Office of Tourism has been able to save funds that are now being redirected toward supporting the local community and boosting morale within the county.

Projects designed toward those ends include the Kane County Strong campaign, the purchase of gift cards from struggling local businesses for social media giveaways, drive-in movies at Kanab Airport, the Kane County movie marathon and scholarship program, advertising for local restaurants offering takeout and curbside, a community cleanup campaign, and a sesquicentennial campaign for alumni of Kanab High School.

Taylor also stated that she is hopeful that the wide open spaces of Kane County will be attractive to city residents after travel restrictions are lifted.

Budget Officer John Livingston discussed the date for the budget opening, which has been set for June 9.

Commissioners Lamont Smith and Brent Chamberlain made arrangements to meet later in the week with Kelly Stowell, who has been put in charge of navigating the process for the various potential funding sources to help the county mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

County Attorney Rob Van Dyke discussed the county’s concerns regarding SITLA’s planned sale of three parcels off of Highway 89, including Red Knoll, which is slated to begin on April 30. The primary concern expressed by local officials is that the sale does not inform the county of the buyer’s intended use for the land, which is widely speculated to be for the intent of preservation rather than toward the development of the local economy.

According to Van Dyke, “We can assume that the sale will be to an entity that is going to hold it so it will not be used for any economic purposes,” specifically those that had been planned with the Southern Red Sands frac sand mining operation.

Commissioner Chamberlain echoed a concern from Kanab Mayor Robert Houston that the location on one of the parcels of a well serving as recharge area for the Kanab water system could be used as a “chokehold on the city” by entities with environmentalist goals at odds with some economic growth operations. The portion of the parcel containing the well is currently leased by Kanab City.

The commission opted to draft a letter to SITLA, requesting information about the land’s buyer and proposed use, and recommending against sales that are not economically beneficial to the county. “We should demand that information,” Chamberlain said, “We don’t have the right to do anything about it, but we have the right to comment.”

Next Commissioner Chamberlain led a discussion on the creation of a committee to provide guidance for the reopening of the Kane County economy. Chamberlain stated that the committee would include representation from the Kane County Hospital and the public health department, as well as the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Office of Tourism.

Attorney Van Dyke clarified that state guidelines do not currently prohibit travel and only recommend against non-essential travel, while the state order closing restaurants and restricting gatherings to groups of 10 or fewer is at the state’s discretion to lift or extend beyond the May 1 expiration date. While local governments can advocate for lifting the restrictions, they will not be able to override the state’s decision.

Van Dyke suggested drafting a plan for the county to reopen safely – including written commitments from individual businesses to adhere to public health guidelines – may encourage the state government to take a regional approach to the reopening process instead of a state-wide one. 

Attorney Van Dyke gave an update on the Indigent Defense Commission Grant application, which has been drafted for Kane County by Shane Manueli. On the recommendation of Van Dyke, the commission voted to approve the application, pending approval by public defender William Leigh and budget officer John Livingston.

The commission decided not to renew Ordinance 2020-10, which had restricted recreational use on public lands and ordered those returning to secondary residences within Kane County to self-quarantine for two weeks. Although the ordinance will no longer be in effect, the commission still recommends that individuals returning to Kane County from other parts of the country self-quarantine.

Finally, the commission addressed business on behalf of the Cedar Mountain Fire Protection District, whose board was dissolved following the resignation of three of its five members and its duties delegated back to the county. During the course of this agenda item, the meeting paused at 1:30 p.m. for a scheduled meeting of the Municipal Building Authority and resumed at 3 p.m.

The commission discussed potentially changing the plans for the construction of a new firehouse in Swain’s Creek, which is currently slated to be much larger than what is necessitated by the Insurance Service Office guidelines requiring all homes be within five road miles of a station. Because the extant plans have already been submitted to the Community Impact Board as part of the funding application, plans to downsize will have to be drafted and re-submitted before further action can be taken.

The commission appointed Wade Heaton as the District Manager for CMFPD, who will report to the county commission and assume executive authority over the routine operations of the district, including supervising staff and approving budget expenditures.

Heaton, who will be running for Lamont Smith’s spot on the commission in November and currently faces no opposition, will also be responsible for hiring a permanent district manager upon being appointed to the commission, as well as laying the groundwork for the district to revert to having its own board.