Big Water Town Hall hosts Republican debate for Kane County Commissioner candidates


Left to right: Commissioner Andy Gant, challenger Patty Kubeja, Councilmember Celeste Meyeres, and Councilmember Michael East sit in the Big Water city chambers during the debate on Monday, May 9, 2022.

On Monday, May 9, the candidates for Kane County Commissioner answered questions about issues related to eastern Kane County. A video of the meeting was available on YouTube after the meeting at https://youtu.be/Ax3Z90OGC50.


On the ballot are two seats on the Commission. Seat A candidates are Celeste Meyeres and Michael East. Seat B candidates are Andy Gant, incumbent, and Patty Kubeja. Republican voters in Kane County are asked to vote for one candidate for each seat in the primary election.


Each commissioner candidate was allowed three minutes to introduce themselves. Andy Gant, current chair of Kane County Commission since 2018, and member of the Garkane Energy board, introduced himself as a transplant to Kanab from southern Oregon. He has owned and run a number of businesses and enjoys living in Kane County.

Patty Kubeja moved to Kanab from Seattle, Washington. She is the oldest of seven children. She served as an officer in the military and was deployed three times, retiring in 2015.


Michael East is currently the President and CEO of South-Central Communications and member of Kanab City Council since 2016. He was born and raised in San Diego, California, is a CPA and has worked in Indiana and Maryland.


Celeste Meyeres is a member of the Kanab City Council since 2019, and is the chair of the Kane County Republican Party. She owns two businesses with her husband, Nicholas.


The candidates were each asked five questions and had three minutes to respond to each question. The order with which the candidates answered questions was changed with each question so each candidate got a turn at being the first or last to answer.


First question: Amangiri resort produces the most TRT funds in the county. Do you think these funds have been fairly distributed across the county?


East responded that TRT funds are not taxpayer funds and are to be reinvested for tourists and locals. “Do I feel they are equally distributed? No.” He believes in having a conversation with towns, cities and unincorporated areas. There are rules for what they can be spent on.


Meyeres responded that the state has mandates on how to spend the funds. She believes in working with the state and her strength is working with the legislature. She gave an example that 53 percent of the funds can be spent to mitigate effects of tourism.


Kubeja responded that the funds should be wisely spent and that TRT are public funds and not private funds. She said there should be a contingency fund and that the funds spent outside Kanab are not equally spent. She said that even though Amangiri does contribute to the TRT funds, when looking at the contribution based on ‘head count’ it is not equal with other lodging.


Gant said he agrees with the three other candidates. The pandemic increased domestic tourism and decreased international tourism. It was a banner year for the TRT. There is a bill in the legislature to allocate funds differently and the state allocates the funds with ‘strings’ attached. He believes the county should have more of a say in the use of the funds and that there is a need to improve county infrastructure.


Second question: Church Wells is currently upgrading the water system and roads. They are bringing roads to county standards so that the county can help maintain the roads. What can the commissioners do to help get a turn lane for Church Wells, and other infrastructure needs?


Gant would like to see a Water Conservation District and says that there is “tons of money” coming in and water systems are on the top of the list. He would like to see a conversation about the roads. There was a gas tax increase that would be used on roads and allocated to the counties by miles of roads and work with the state so “rural areas are not screwed”.


Kubeja said that there are various classes of roads. As an example in the Vermilion Cliffs development, the developer didn’t do the roads and residents are having to pay around $7000 to upgrade the roads. Church Wells would have to pay to bring the roads up to county standards before the county would do the maintenance and paving.


Meyeres responded by saying that it is a complicated issue and that we should fight for community rights. There has been an ARPA grant for water and roads in Church Wells and that Kane County “cannot take on new roads”.


East responded by saying that the county infrastructure needs are diverse. “People in Kanab call it Kanab County.” He said there is a need to talk with other areas and we have to do more with less. He agrees we need to do something for roads and solve the problems together. “There aren’t conversations being had here (Big Water).” He is willing to work with Utah Department of Transportation for turn lanes.


Third topic of discussion: Clark Bench and New Paria areas do not seem to be part of the decision making process for special services, trash, roads and water.


Meyeres responded that there are requirements from the state and that it is a struggle with the level of service with water systems. She would like to work together to improve services. For unincorporated areas, there is responsibility without power. SITLA lands inside the Grand Staircase- Escalante were traded for lands outside of the monument. Local residents have little say in what happens on those lands.


East believes that special service districts are the answer to the infrastructure issues and that we are “all in this together”. He urges Clark Bench and New Paria to join the conservation district and water shares transferred to the district. He looks forward to address water needs and frame a conversation with SITLA, Kane County and towns.


Kubeja said the number one concern is fire protection and this is outside of the TRT ‘box’ as it is not specifically identified as an approved use of funds. She wants to work together for solutions.

Gant responded that Cedar Mountain is ahead of the rest of the county. There are many ways to fund locally. Big Water could get its own agreement and use the Cedar Mountain agreement as an example.


Question four: SITLA land use affects Big Water. BLM promised land before the monument but was cut out before the monument was established. What can be done about the SITLA lands?


Gant said, “It’s a noble concept. Governor Leavitt sold out,” and that “private land in the Grand Staircase was taken by the Clinton Administration.” SITLA has all of the control over the lands and their mission is to get the most money for the state school systems. He doesn’t like the “mother may I” approach to SITLA.


Kubeja wasn’t aware of SITLA until a city council meeting. She asked if there is any documentation about Big Water getting land and said that the county should help with a lawsuit. She said they do take consideration of public input and that it is all about profit for SITLA.


Meyeres said she has talked to the “SITLA people” and knows who to talk to and believes it is good for county commissioners to know who to talk to. SITLA proposed a Maverik station on condition that the sewer was available. Then state code kicks in. She said it is a ‘roller coaster’ system. “If Big Water doesn’t want the Maverik station, then they will just have to wait and the only out is working with the state legislature and work with other counties.”


East said we need to find a way to work together and “be careful what you ask for”. When the golf course didn’t come to pass, instead a 100 acre tract will see 500 homes with two cars per home going up a hill. He said that SITLA mandates that they obtain the most money from the land and can wait. We need to be part of the solution. “SITLA stinks, but we can be part of the solution.”

Question five: Big Water Fire Department has been extremely successful and the department has dedicated their heart and soul. As the county grows, what can you do to help Big Water get its share of funding to keep up with the growth?


East said there are limits with TRT funds. We are all in it together. Fire equipment is outrageously expensive. We need to work together to find flexibility with TRT funds. The needs in Kane County are different than in Salt Lake City. We should be able to decide where to spend the money. Until there’s more flexibility, we are left with special service districts.


Meyeres said that under the current parameters, TRT funds cannot be spent on fire protection and for this year, there’s no flexibility. She suggested that TRT funds could be used elsewhere for eligible work and then fire protection could be funded with the other funds. It would be good to work with the county and county attorney to help decide. There is responsibility for local communities but no power. Amangiri has an agreement with Big Water Fire Department. We can work as a team on the issues.


Kubeja said Kane County has made great strides for fire districts. She would like to see a fire station between Big Water and Johnson Canyon. She supports seeing what can be done for Kane County. Cedar Mountain may have a difference in income level from Big Water and other areas of Kane County.


Gant suggests a combination of CRV grants and TRT funds. Big Water has done an amazing job to get the Amangiri agreement. TRT funds could dry up if there’s an economic downturn. TRT funds cannot be used for general budget items. He said he doesn’t want to see Kane County be like Grand County that funded positions and other things and got in trouble. The service district ended up shutting down and handed back to taxpayers. A solution could be to use funds from new businesses to set up infrastructure and get development agreements, from a portion of what the business generates. State guidelines need to be followed by the letter. He urges people to be present for development reviews and “hold the developers’ feet to the fire”.


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