County taking the right steps to make sure all structures being used as housing are safe, humane

 

Oct. 26, 2017

 

In recent years, several cities in the county have shown a heightened awareness of making sure housing is safe, clean and humane. We’ve also seen some interest, although not yet enough, in cleaning up eyesores.

To give a few examples, Manti created the position of Zoning-Animal-Nuisance (ZAN) officer. Ephraim conducted inspections of trailer courts and forced one court to correct life safety hazards in its utility systems. Gunnison purchased a blighted commercial property on Main Street, paid to have the buildings torn down, and is now offering the lot for sale.

Mt. Pleasant and Spring City have both upgraded their nuisance ordinances and ordinance enforcement.

Now it’s gratifying to see Sanpete County developing ordinances to stop people from getting around building-code requirements by claiming structures being lived in are agricultural outbuildings.

While we don’t know of specific incidents, without a tight definition of what kind of structure can be used for housing, there is the potential of barns, storage buildings and turkey sheds being converted into housing for immigrant farm workers.

The county zoning administrator is trying to establish that if a structure is going to be used for housing, it has to meet all building codes and zoning requirements. That includes adequate land around the structure, road access, power, water and sewage disposal.

It doesn’t matter if the human occupancy is just a few weeks per year. we can’t permit unsafe housing because the site is “recreational” property and structure is or is tantamount to a “cabin.” Housing is housing, and it needs to meet code.

In accordance with existing ordinances, a fifth wheel or RV trailer needs to be used for time-limited camping, not as a permanent dwelling. After the legal camping time expires, the unit needs to be vacated and/or moved.

We live in a beautiful valley. But county government has not begun to address rural blight from abandoned turkey sheds, barns that are falling down, rusted equipment and junk cars that are strewn over hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of unincorporated land. One of the reasons for the blight is that owners know they can get away with the mess.

The zoning administrator, and the Sanpete County Planning and Zoning Commission, are taking the first step to changing things by developing ordinances to address improper behavior. The next step is for the county commission to adopt the ordinances. After that comes the challenge of figuring out how to finance enforcement.

Taking such steps is not infriging on anybody’s rights. It’s protecting the human rights of everybody to live in safe, decent quarters, as well as our rights as a community to enjoy the beauty of our county free of irresponsible eyesores.

Timely annexation makes

sense for Moroni

 

Annexation can be a good thing. In fact, if a city wants to control the environment in which its citizens live, and to chart the location of future growth, timely annexations are essential.

In that vein, Moroni City, taking one step at a time, should annex Sanpete Steel, the residential neighborhood north of North Sanpete Middle School, the school itself, and ultimately, the Norbest plant.

What is a city anyway? It’s a concentration of homes and businesses, with a municipal government that provides water, sewer, parks, police and other services.

Besides providing services, municipal governments, through planning and zoning, regulate land use so everyone in the community can enjoy peace, safety and a good environment.

There’s one other dimension: Homes and businesses share in the costs of city services and city government by paying property taxes, sales taxes and user fees.

In Moroni, the city boundary runs through the middle of the Sanpete Steel property. The steel plant already gets water and sewer from the city.

The split jurisdiction means if the company expands, as it plans to, it could be subject to two sets of development regulations, one city and one county, and could be required to deal with two separate planning commissions. That doesn’t make sense.

Likewise, the subdivision that extends to the east of the city gets water, and many of the homes get sewer services from the city. Certainly, residents of the subdivision use city streets and parks. And if they call the police, a Moroni City officer is likely to respond. The development is urban in character, the kind of landscape a municipality, not a county government, is set up to regulate.

If Sanpete Steel and the residential area were annexed, North Sanpete Middle School, which right now is in the county, but which also receives utilities from the city, would be almost surrounded by city land. Again, that doesn’t make sense. And it’s against state law. The law says you can’t have unincorporated “islands” or “peninsulas” within cities. The school needs to come into Moroni City.

Norbest—including the processing plant, feed mill, corporate headquarters, hardware store, factory store, and yes, the waste lagoon—is a much bigger elephant to swallow. But the principle is the same.

The plant is adjacent to the city. A facility of Norbest’s type and scale will inevitably have impacts on nearby property; in other words, on residents of Moroni. It makes sense for the city, not a fairly distant county government in Manti, to have jurisdiction.

If Moroni City annexed Norbest, it would be legally responsible for providing water to the plant, something it is not in position to do. Norbest supplies its water from its own wells and uses much more water than all of Moroni City.

But surely a solution could be negotiated that would benefit both parties, such as the city buying the wells, or the plant agreeing to forego municipal water in return for certain tax breaks.

Getting back to finances, it’s difficult for a city to cover its costs from residential property taxes alone. It needs businesses and industries, which are taxed at a higher rate than homes, to bring in larger volumes of revenue. And it needs sales tax.

For the social, economic and aesthetic future of the city, Moroni needs to annex properties that abut its boundaries, are built up, and are best governed by a city rather than the county.

Solution to trailer courts:

Scrape and start over,

unless you have a better idea

 

Nothing anyone could have done would have prevented Gary Danner of Fairview from dying in his mobile home when a fire started near his oxygen machine last week.

With an oxygen tank as an accelerant, the same fire in the most expensive custom home in the county undoubtedly would have produced the same result.

Nonetheless, the shoddy condition of the court where Danner’s trailer was located and the tight spacing of trailers in the park, which contributed to fire spreading to the next unit, put the focus, once again, on the unacceptable condition of trailer “parks” and “courts” around the county.

A little more than a year ago, there was a similar situation at the trailer park on Main Street in Ephraim. A fire started on the porch of one trailer and quickly spread to the trailer next door. Both units were destroyed.

We don’t have all the answers. We just know that some leadership, some public-private cooperation, and possibly involvement by the Utah Legislature is needed to address ratty trailer parks throughout rural Utah.

There are about a dozen such parks in Sanpete County. Unlike many lovely parks on the Wasatch Front, the parks do not have interior roads. They do not have sidewalks. There is no designated parking for vehicles. There is scant to no landscaped open space.

So what do our local parks have?

As described above, most are overcrowded.

Many units in the parks, perhaps the majority, were manufactured prior to 1976 when Congress raised the standard for mobile homes. These pre-1976 units have little to no insulation, thin roofs, thin walls, poor windows and inefficient heating systems. Often they are not airtight or watertight.

Throughout our local parks are trailers with plywood add-ons that violate building and safety codes.

Many of the parks permit travel trailers, like Mr. Danner’s trailer, which are not designed to be lived in long-term.

To our knowledge, Ephraim is the only municipality in the county that has done a thorough inspection of trailer parks within its boundaries.

We suspect if all municipalities, as a first step, had building professionals do thorough inspections of their parks, they would find, as Ephraim did, many code violations related to the water, sewer and power systems, and many improperly stored propane tanks.

And everywhere, in all the parks we’ve seen, there is junk, junk, junk.

It all adds up to dismal living environments. The environments border on the inhumane. They need to be fixed.

Ephraim is a model for the county in that it took the first step by inspecting its parks. Then, by threatening to close the DJ park, it forced the owner to fix life-safety issues related to water, sewer and power.

But when it came to full enforcement of all codes at all parks, it appears to us that Ephraim has backed off.

Our dream would be to see private enterprise, or a nonprofit organization, with government help, start buying up parks; relocating the residents temporarily; scraping the developments; creating interior roads, sidewalks and open spaces; installing trailers meeting current standards; and then moving residents back with opportunities to purchase the new units.

Too ambitious, you say. Okay, what’s the alternative? The only alternative we see is the status quo. And as we’ve explained here, the status quo is unacceptable.

 

 

Tweet others the way you would want to be tweeted

To mark Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 10-16) last month, one of Sanpete’s representatives in Congress, Rep. Chris Stewart, tweeted, “Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. Let us take the opportunity to ask ourselves what we can do to prevent these tragedies.”

That was on Sept. 18.

Within the same week, the congressman tweeted statements displaying the kind of mean-spiritedness that has been shown to contribute to many decisions to commit suicide.

On Sept. 14, Stewart tweeted about Harvard’s decision to name Chelsea Manning a Harvard fellow. Manning is the transgendered former Army intelligence analyst who, in 2010, leaked military and diplomatic records to Wikileaks. She pleaded guilty to several charges but was acquitted on the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. She maintained her leak was an act of conscience.

Stewart tweeted, “Just heard Chelsea Manning named Harvard Fellow. Way to go Harvard. Please consider my 5 yr old grandson for next opening. Equally qualified.”

Then after President Trump’s speech to the United Nations on Sept. 20, Stewart tweeted this: “Laughing. Liberals going nuts after prez UN speech. His idea = defend freedom. Their respond = drink 18 glasses of water and wet pants.”

Stewart deleted the latter tweet after one hour but not before it had been archived by ProPublica. It’s unclear what he found inappropriate about the tweet: Its mockery of liberals or the fact that it referenced urination.

On the Manning tweet, several people gave examples of how Stewart could have expressed his opinion without being mean and petty. One person, in a reply to Stewart’s tweet, suggested the congressman could have said, “I don’t think based on merits this was warranted. There are many others who did far more to serve their country who do.”

Likewise, it is possible to express opposition in public policy matters without self-righteous condescension. The tone, not necessarily the content, of Stewart’s tweet regarding opposition responses  to Trump’s U.N. speech is distressing.

The musical “Into the Woods” contains a lyric: “Careful the things you say—children will listen. Careful the things you do—children will see and learn. Children may not obey—but children will listen. Children will look to you for which way to turn.”

Which way do you want them turning, Rep. Stewart?

Utah is on track to have the worst year for youth suicides in history. Cyberbullying is frequently a factor in such deaths. The cyberbullying phenomenon is not surprising in the era of a Bully in Chief. We are experiencing what has become an unfortunate staple in our political and social discourse: Trickle-down rudeness.

To Rep. Stewart, President Trump and others who post ill-considered and hurtful comments on social media, we say: “Stop it.”

In fact, we ask everyone to tone done down their rhetoric, especially in the relative insulation of the online world.

To paraphrase one of the oldest rules of civility: Tweet unto others the way you would want to be tweeted.

 

Districts stress bus safety—the rest is up to us

 

The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) and our local school districts go to exceptional lengths to make sure school buses and school bus drivers are safe.

The rest is up to us as drivers and parents.

The efforts of the school system start at the top. Every year before school starts, the USOE puts on a two-and-a-half day training for the school bus coordinators in Utah’s 41 school districts. The goal is to prepare them to train the drivers in their local districts.

Considering that school bus driver is a part-time job with no benefits, the qualifications and training requirements are pretty stringent.

Candidates must first qualify for a Utah commercial driver’s license. Then they have to take 7-8 hours of classroom training and 12 hours of observed training behind the wheel of a bus to become certified as school bus drivers.

Every five years, school bus drivers must recertify by completing the same requirements all over again.

Before school each year, local districts put all drivers through another 8 hours of training, and at mid year, 6 more hours. And all drivers are subject to random drug testing.

Ralph Squire, who besides being assistant superintendent, is the school bus coordinator in the South Sanpete School District, says lots of people inquire about driving school buses but only about one in 10 is willing to go through the process to become a driver.

But even if drivers are qualified, trained and monitored, they don’t have control of everything that happens outside their buses. That’s were we come in.

As a school bus approaches a stop, the driver turns on flashing yellow lights. That makes the area around the bus a school zone with a speed limit of 20 miles per hour.

As soon as the driver opens the door of the bus, alternating red lights go on at the front and rear of the bus and stop arms come out from the side. That means traffic in all directions must stop in place, just as if a crossing guard or stop light were present.

Every driver should know that. But many don’t stop. Officials have estimated there are 1,500 stop-arm violations per year in Utah.

Another scary problem is ATVs driving along borrow pits on our rural roads. Drivers may not see stop arms because those may be on the other side of the bus. But if red lights are flashing, four-wheelers need to stop before reaching the bus.

The school bus coordinator in North Sanpete tells the story of one of his drivers grabbing a child by the backpack and pulling him back into the bus just as an ATV went whizzing past.

Finally, Squire emphasizes, rushing to catch the school bus, especially in the morning, can be a dangerous thing.

In the winter, a student might slip and fall in the road or even in front of the bus. Depending on the child’s position, it might be impossible for drivers of cars or the school bus driver to see him or her, and the child could be vulnerable to getting run over.

Sometimes, because a child is late, the parent drives him or her to the bus stop, drives through the stop arm, and lets the child off right at the front of the bus. The child runs in front of the bus to get to the door. If timing is wrong, the child might bolt in front of the bus just as it starts pulling forward.

Squire advises families to make sure children are standing at the bus stop 5 minutes before the bus pulls up so they can join their friends in filing in an orderly line into the bus. If your child won’t be able to make it to the stop before the bus does, drive him or her to school yourself.

Although there have been some close calls, Sanpete County has made it for many years without a school bus accident. Let’s keep it that way.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves: Search & Rescue volunteers are ‘phenomenal’

 

“These guys are just phenomenal!”

We wish the Messenger could take credit for that exclamation about the Sanpete Search and Rescue, but that honor goes to Sgt. Jayson Albee, the liaison between the S&R and the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Department.

But even if we weren’t the ones to first say it, we can at least echo it—loudly—through the streets, fields, valleys and mountains of Sanpete County.

Especially the mountains, where Search and Rescue volunteers spend so much of their time helping others.

The Messenger sat down with Albee after the successful rescue of a young girl on Skyline Drive, reported in the Aug. 10 issue of the newspaper. During our interview, Albee opened our eyes on just what these “guys” (the group does indeed include women, it should be noted) do.

Between July 2 and Aug. 9, the Search and Rescue responded to nine different calls, including two at the very same time, three in a single 12-hour period, and five in as many days. Some details about these calls will show why these local heroes are worthy of the name.

 

  • July 2 and July 15 — Two ATV accidents, which included locating injured individuals and transporting them to medical helicopters. One of them was an 11-year-old child who had to be LifeFlighted. (Did you know that it is up to the Search and Rescue to establish landing areas on the mountain for helicopter rescues?) In the other incident, the individual was trapped in nasty, steep, rugged canyon and, with broken ribs and possibly broken neck and back, had to be carried 1.5 miles to the landing zone.

“That’s always a little tricky,” Albee says.

That, our friends, is what we call an understatement.

 

  • July 20-21 — Two stuck vehicles in rainy, muddy, slick conditions. While Albee made it clear (and wished us to do likewise) that Search and Rescue means rescuing people, not vehicles, S&R volunteers made sure people who wanted to wait things out until drier conditions had enough food, water and fuel; the others, they brought safely down off the mountain.

 

  • July 23 — A person lost on the Ferron side of 12-Mile Canyon called in at 8:30 p.m. Cellphone coverage was so spotty that dispatchers could make out only “lost,” “injured,” and “Duck Fork.” The call was lost before they could even get GPS coordinates. With such an un-pinpointed area, S&R volunteers were on the call until 4:30 that morning, searching for a long while before using ropes and pulleys to finally rescue a man, who had slipped off a ridge into a deep ravine.

 

  • July 23 — A call came in at 9:03 p.m. (notice the date as the same as the previous one, and only 33 minutes later). Someone had a broken ankle, this time clear up the other end of the county in Fairview Canyon. Albee divided volunteers and resources “the best we could” between there and Duck Fork. The Fairview Canyon incident would require a helicopter to do a hoist. There are only two choppers in the state with that capability, and neither of them currently have the ability for night rescue. Volunteers hiked into him, took him pain medication and other supplies, built fires to keep him warm and spent about five hours with him until first light when the helicopter could lift him out. It took even these seasoned volunteers almost two and a half hours to hike to him through “really nasty, thick, very steep” terrain.

“That’s the neat thing about our guys: They’re prepared to do that,” Albee says.

 

  • July 24 — On the way home from Duck Fork, at about 8:30 a.m., another call: Someone had gone into anaphylactic shock due to a bee sting. Medical assistance was required. Almost any time medical assistance is needed on the mountain, it’s going to involve Search and Rescue because ambulances can’t go “off-road.”

Notice that the last few incidents all occurred during a time when everyone else in the county was celebrating a nice, relaxing, recreational four-day Pioneer Day holiday.

“When it’s a holiday, and we should be enjoying our holiday, we get called out to help somebody who’s having a bad day,” Albee says.

While that’s amazing by itself, the real tremendous thing about it is that Search and Rescue volunteers arent esentful about it.       “They’re a group of people who want to serve, enjoy serving, helping, and doing things that other people can’t do or aren’t willing to do.,” Albee said.

 

  • Aug. 4 — Another stranded motorist in very muddy, uncertain conditions—this time a young family of five, one of the children a 7-month-old infant. Search and Rescue got them back to their camp, where the campers made arrangements to get their vehicle. “They weren’t really prepared to spend the night, mom with a little baby,” Albee says. They weren’t in any real danger, “But you can understand the concern of a dad with little kids, wanting to keep his family safe and comfortable.”

 

 

Now admittedly it was a busier than usual period, Albee said. But it shows what our Search and Rescue volunteers do, and what they must be prepared to do. In that period, they put in 466 combined manhours. That’s the equivalent of more than 11 fulltime workdays.

Then there’s the additional 6-10 hours of training and meetings every month, more than that if they’re specially trained in water rescue (deep-water, swift-water and ice), snow rescue (avalanche, snowmobiles and snow cats), technical rescue (ropes, high-angle, low-angle, confined-space and heavy (weight) rescue), or on the communications team (radio operations, GPS and APRS—a real-time direct-to-computer tracking system).

Then you’ve got the parades and celebrations in which their presence is ubiquitous (think: Mormon Miracle Pageant or Sanpete County Fair).

Their dedication and sense of duty is nothing short of amazing. “The pager goes off, and they’re expected to run out the door, grab their gear, and go spend the night up on the mountain with little or no warning at all,” Albee says, and often in conditions that no other sane person would dare go out in.

“I keep saying,” Albee says, and we say it, too, “My hat’s off to them.”

If you see one of them, shake his or her hand and with us say, “Thank you.”

 

Sanpete Search and Rescue are:

Bart Hennagir

Mark Taylor

Aaron Broomhead

Todd Anderson

Joe Shoppe

Barry Bradley

Beau Lund

Orson Cook

Marc Lambert

Kevin Madsen

Spencer Mack

Scott Mower

Donald Childs

Les Haskins

Kerry Nielson

Niel Johnson

Claude Pickett

Andy Christensen

Zeke Stevens

Dave Welch

John Collard

Preston Pritchard

Jesse Bell

RL Taylor

Dave Taylor

BJ Roman

Dave Bowles

Dick Allred

Katy Sedlak

Lory Quarnberg

Glen Hoenicke

John Allsop

Noel Bertleson

Malcolm Powell

Brian Nielson

Jayson Albee

Brian Sorensen

Bruce Burnham

Jared Buchanan

Brett Olsen

Scott Watson

David Sedlak

Sanpete’s justice courts should be made of lay, rather than professional, judges

Being a lawyer is not the sole or even the most important qualification for being a justice court judge. The Messenger believes character, intellectual competence and community connection are also important requirements.

But we don’t only ask panels that will select judge nominees, and city councils who will make the ultimate appointments, to consider those qualifications. We also call on residents who, but for the lack of formal legal training, would be inclined to apply for judgeships.

Gunnison, Manti, Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim and Moroni are all filling the vacancies created by the retirement of Judge Ivo Peterson, who for years sat on the justice-court benches of all those cities.

His retirement also left open the judgeships in Fairview, Fountain Green and Spring City, and those municipalities have all selected Richfield-based attorney Mark McIff to fill those seats.

We urge McIff, and cities still selecting judges, not to follow Peterson’s pattern of making municipal justice courts essentially a full-time job. This is not because of anything we have against either McIff or Peterson. Rather, it grows out of certain values and that we believe are shared by most people in Sanpete County.

We do, however, urge officials to use Peterson as an example of a non-lawyer judge, and to strongly consider non-lawyers as city-court judges.

We believe in having, in our most local of courts, judges who are local—even hyperlocal—meaning, from the very city of the court over which they preside. One reason for this, we feel, is that judges in these kinds of courts should be should be connected and dedicated to their communities, viewing their work primarily as public service, rather than as career “work.”

A 1977 paper in the Chicago-Kent Law Review on the historical context and debate over non-lawyer judges stated, “[C]reating a cross-section of the community on the bench is an important goal.”

Another reason for having local judges in each city is to help ensure that they preside in person over their courts, rather than by Skype or videoconference as has sadly become more common. How can we expect defendants and plaintiffs to respect our courts if judges themselves don’t consider court important enough to be there in person?

There are justifiable exceptions to this, such as a proceeding that involves only attorneys. Otherwise, judges should be at all hearings where defendants are required to make personal appearances.

Some would say that law-trained judges are necessary to preserve constitutional rights of due process. The question has some history in case law, and courts have generally held that due process is not violated simply because a judge is not a member of the bar.

A New Mexico Supreme Court decision, reiterated in a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court, held, “The judge’s major function is to determine which of two espoused view-points—the [defense] attorney’s or the prosecutor’s—is applicable to the facts of the case before him. An unbiased and reasonably intelligent person should be able to choose fairly between such espoused viewpoints. Fairness in this context is not critically dependent upon the judge being a member of the bar.”

Judgeship nominees must demonstrate the intellectual ability to grasp the logic of legal arguments. But let’s face it, in a justice court, we don’t need a judge to plumb the legal depths.

As the same state supreme court cases in New Mexico and Montana stated, “A judge must have wisdom and common sense, which are at least as dependable as an education in guaranteeing the defendant a fair trial.”

Some will also say that a non-lawyer can’t appropriately apply the law. But we find that application of the law is more a matter of logic and character than of knowledge of the law itself.

In other words, we want judges who can ably review the law, rather than ones who could be editor of the Harvard Law Review.

A person can know the law and still misapply it or defiantly snub it, such as the Louisiana judge who knew the Supreme Court had decriminalized interracial marriage in 1967, but who nevertheless refused to perform such marriages; or the New York judge who refused to issue  a protective order against a man who had choked, kicked in the stomach, and threatened to kill his wife, said, “Every woman needs a good pounding now and then.”

It is difficult to conceive of anything like that happening in Sanpete County. But instances like those have more to do with character, and almost nothing at all to do with legal knowledge.

Whenever there’s an opening on the Supreme Court, there’s a lot of hey made about getting a nominee who will give us a court that “looks like America.”

We’re only Sanpete, and these are only city justice courts. We need judges who look like Sanpete, understand our culture and geography, are competent in their chosen undertakings and have deep connections to their communities.

 

 

 

 

It’s time for all towns to get on board with buffer zone planning

 

For more than a year, the Sanpete County Planning and Zoning Commission has been grappling with what to permit in the buffer zones around many of the 13 municipalities in the county.

Buttressed by some unhappy experiences, the planning commission has concluded that a lot more language needs to be written and added to the county zoning ordinance,  starting with defining what a buffer zone is, and from there, stating what is allowed in each buffer city buffer zone.

In other words, the time has come for much tighter coordinating between city planning commissions and the county planning commission in approving homes, subdivisions and even things like billboards in the buffer zones.

We agree. If cities, city planning commissions, the county and the county planning commission don’t get on the same page, we’re going to have some awful messes in our county. In fact, we already have such a mess west of Manti.

But to understand what is going on, we need to take a step back. In 2002, Bruce Blackham, then a county commissioner, led a project to rewrite Sanpete County’s zoning ordinance.

County commissioners and citizens advising on the rewrite agreed that the county should try to push housing development into, or at least in the direction of, the 13 municipalities in the county.

The goal was to avoid a hopscotch pattern of housing developments dotting expanses of agricultural land. By doing so, conflicts between residential and agricultural uses would be avoided, which would help preserve agriculture.

But how do you put such a concept into action? The answer was buffer zones.

The county would invite each of its 13 municipalities to define an area extending up to a half mile out from its boundaries. Once the town approved a buffer zone, the zone would go on the county zoning maps.

The most common zone throughout the unincorporated county is A-1, an agricultural zone permitting one housing unit on a maximum of five acres. But under the 2002 zoning rewrite, land in buffer zones was zoned RA-1 (for residential-agriculture). That zone permits one home per half acre.

Meanwhile, the county subdivision ordinance says that someone can subdivide land into four lots, creating a so-called “minor subdivision,” without putting in paved streets, curbs, gutters, sewers, etc.—the types of improvements required in subdivision ordinances in nearly all our Sanpete cities.

There was one more provision of the zoning rewrite: If someone proposed a development in a buffer zone, the county would refer the application to the city involved.

If the city chose, it could annex the land, which would mean development would proceed under city ordinances. If the city chose not the annex, development would proceed under more lenient county rules.

So what has happened? For starters, telling cities if they want to have a say in what happens just outside their boundaries they need to annex the land has not worked. As a big annexation in Ephraim last year demonstrated, annexation is a complicated and expensive process that takes about a year. There’s no way a city can respond to every development application in its buffer zone by trying to annex the property.

Rather, development has proceeded under the county zoning ordinance. In a number of cases, the county planning commission has not been comfortable with what a developer was proposing. But it has been forced to go by the laws on the county books and approve the project.

“All that is doing,” says Loren Thompson, chairman of the county planning commission, “is putting us in a position of sticking it to the cities.”

Take the Manti example. A developer came to county planning and got approval for a minor subdivision in the Manti buffer zone. Then somebody else came in and got another minor subdivision approved next to the first one. Then a third minor subdivision went in nearby.

One of the minor subdivisions had one lot that was pretty large. So someone came to county planning and applied to take the lot, which, mind you, was inside a previous minor subdivision, and subdivide it.

The net result is what is essentially a city neighborhood. Yet there has been no coordination of roads. A city road is paved up to the city boundary. From there, there’s a gravel road running past the entrances to a couple of the subdivisions.

Branching off the gravel road is another gravel road with several houses along it. In fact, it terminates in a cul-de-sac. But the cul-de-sac road has been declared private.

Across the street to the north from where the gravel road starts is other  developable property. It would make sense to plan for an extension of the gravel road into the new area. But that can’t happen. There’s a house in the way.

Meanwhile, someone is putting in a home lot on different property very close to the cul-de-sac. That second developer is running a paved street to his lot. But the paved street can’t connect to the subdivision served by the cul-de-sac vision. Why? Because the other subdivision road is private.

Meanwhile, traffic from all of the minor subdivisions in that part of the Manti buffer zone is flowing onto the Manti City paved road and using it to reach U.S. 89.

To start taking steps to prevent such situations, the county planning commission has asked every city to provide some information. Specifically, the county has asked cities what zoning they would like in their buffer zones, for their future annexation plans (those are required by state law anyway), and for road development plans. The materials would be the basis for new ordinance language regulating what goes on in the various buffer zones.

The information was due April 1. So far only two cities—Manti and Ephraim—have submitted anything. The 11 other cities in Sanpete County need to get on the stick.

City-county coordination of development in buffer zones probably looks like a daunting task. But over time, with jurisdictions working together, it can be done. It has to be done.

OPINION - Steve weller Editorial comic 4-13
Fairgrounds grandstand represents team effort, creativity, perseverance

 

If we’ve learned anything from experience in Sanpete County, it’s that it takes public officials, community volunteers, creativity and perseverance to get a major community project off the ground.

It has taken all of those things and more for Sanpete County and the Sanpete County Fairboard to get ready to put a new fairgrounds grandstand and arena out to bid.

We’ve known for years that the current grandstand, at 95-plus years old, wasn’t adequate and wasn’t up to code.

But it wasn’t until 2012 that Wade Anderson, then fair chairman, and Mike Bennett, vice chairman at the time, convinced the Sanpete Commission that something had to be done.

The county applied for and received an $11,000 planning grant from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB). The county hired Jones and Demille Engineering to evaluate the old grandstand and draft a fairgrounds master plan.

Garrick Willden, senior engineer in engineering firm’s Manti office, confirmed that old grandstand was nearing the point of being unsafe. Then, under Fairboard direction, he drew up a master plan for the fairgrounds with an estimated price tag of $1.8 million.

The plan called, first, for tearing down the old grandstand and using the current arena as a warmup area. It called for building a new arena, with a new, covered grandstand, north of the present one, with the grandstand facing south.

The master plan also called for building a new concession building under the new grandstand, for remodeling one restroom and building three new ones, and for installing new sidewalks tying fair facilities and activities together.

With Willden’s assistance, the Fairboard put together an application to the CIB. In late 2015, it was funded for $895,000, which at time, was the estimated cost of the grandstand only.

That left the Fairboard, by then chaired by Bennett, with Matt Reber as co-chair, with an elephant to swallow. It was up to them to raise another $905,000 from foundations, business and private donations, to complete the $1.8 million budget.

Bennett and Reber have literally scoured the county. And dozens of organizations, businesses and individuals have stepped up.

The George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation committed $150,000, contingent on other fund raising. The Manti Ambulance Company had some money left over from constructing its new ambulance building. It gave $30,000. The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area, a partner in so many projects in Central Utah over the past 10 years, chipped in $30,000.

Companies that have given amounts ranging from a few thousand to $40,000 include Zions Bank, Cache Valley Bank, Barclay Mechanical and Rocky Mountain Power.

Municipalities that have pledged amounts ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per town include Fairview, Ephraim, Fountain Green, Moroni, Gunnison, Centerfield and Mayfield have pledged amounts ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per town.

The result is that as of April 1, the Fairboard had $493,000 in private or in-kind donations pledged or in hand.

But when the Fairboard and county commission reviewed the project in March, there wasn’t enough money available to start work on the kind of stands the Fairboard wanted to build.

So Bennett, Reber and others searched the Internet. They found a company in Minnesota that had deconstructed two NASCAR stadiums and were selling off the 12-year-old salvaged stands at bargain prices.

The fair leaders negotiated purchase of enough materials from the Minnesota company to build a 3,750-seat grandstand. That’s more than three times the number of seats in the current grandstand. The deal included two smaller stands that could be placed on the opposite site of the arena containing another 3,000 seats. On top of that, the fair volunteers were able to purchase bleachers from the Minnesota company that could be placed on the sides of the arena containing another 2,500 seats.

That will create approximately 9,500 seats. And the total cost was $457,000, a little more than half the original estimate for the main grandstand only.

We commend Mike Bennett, Matt Reber, Garrick Willden, the Fairboard, present and former county commissioners, municipalities, businesses and individuals who have helped accomplish what many times over the past five years looked to be impossible.

There is a chance the new grandstand will be ready for this year’s fair. But with extra design work required to adapt previous plans to the added seating, the facility may still be under construction during the 2017 fair. That means the fair may have to use the old grandstand for one final year. But the new stands and arena will definitely be in place by 2018.

However, fairgrounds improvement can’t stop with the new arena. While it will take another two to three years, and while, if you can believe it, more money still needs to be raised, we urge all involved to persevere in order to complete the concession stand, restrooms, lighting, fencing, sidewalks and all elements in the original master plan.

OPINION - Weller editorial cartoon - old hotel

We’ve tried to fish. Now it’s time to cut bait.

For years, Ephraim City has tried to work with multiple owners to get the now infamous Travel Inn at 330 N. Main torn down and something decent put in its place. Sometimes the city has struggled to simply locate the owner of the acre-plus property.

But the 40-unit structure still stands, unboarded-up windows broken out, the disheveled contents of rooms abandoned 15 years ago still visible.

As one woman who testified before the city council in 2014 put it, “It’s embarrassing.” Another woman who spoke at the same meeting said simply, “It’s horrible.”

Now the current owner, who has owned the property nearly two years, is asking for more delays and giving more ambiguous timelines.

Everybody’s worn out. It’s time for the city to jump through whatever legal hoops it needs to in order to get the building condemned. Then the city, calling on volunteer help if needed, must take it down. Once the building is gone, the city could put a lien on the land in the amount of demolition costs.

Consider a partial chronology, drawn from the archives of the Sanpete Messenger.

Six years ago, in April 2011, Councilman Don Olson was one of the first council members to speak out about conditions on Main Street, particularly the motel. If the then owner didn’t tear the motel down promptly, he said, “we need to contact our county building inspector, and if he condemns it, which he will, we tear it down.”

In July, 2011, Olsen spoke out again. “This north end is pretty shabby coming in to our nice little town,” he said. The Messenger carried a large page 1 photo of the motel showing weeds 2 feet high.

In June, 2012, then Mayor David Parrish declared, “This mayor is absolutely serious about cleaning up these buildings that do not meet state, county and city standards for safety and occupancy.” Later in the meeting, Parrish said prophetically, “Nothing is going to happen quickly.”

In July, 2015, City Planner Bryan Kimball told the city council he had good news: The blighted property had been sold at auction. Zions Bank had purchased it and resold it to Branden Kirk, a Spanish Fork realtor. And Kirk had asked for help from the city to tear the motel down.

The city seemed to turn up the heat in 2016. The city council gave City Manager Hanson a deadline of Dec. 31, 2016 to get the building down. Police Chief Ron Rasmussen, whose duties include code enforcement, told the city council a couple of times that one way or other, the building was coming down.

The city council set aside time at one of its meetings to hear from the public about blight in the city. One of the people who spoke was had been the city’s building inspector in time past. He had left to work as a building inspector on the Wasatch Front, then returned to Ephraim to retire. He said if he had been building inspector in Ephraim, the Travel Inn would have come down years ago.

The city paid Sunrise Engineering to do an inspection of the property. Then the city staff and owner Branden Kirk said they needed three more months, until the end of March, to work out a solution.

On March 15 of this year, Kirk visited the council to say he needed the city to approve a site plan for apartments on the site before he could do anything else. City Planner Kimball pointed out that site plan approval typically takes 6-8 weeks.

Once he had an approved plan, the owner said, he would be able to seek investors in the project. And once he had financing, he could give a timeline for demolishing the motel.

Wait a minute. The extended deadline for the building to come down was March 31. That’s tomorrow!

The Travel Inn is more than a blighted motel. It has become a symbol that says, “You can do anything you want here in Ephraim and we’re not going to do anything bout it.”

If we don’t want that kind of thinking to become entrenched in the public consciousness. it’s time to cut bait.

 

 

 

The biggest concern, perennially, in Sanpete County is the economy and jobs. But the latest numbers from the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) suggest Sanpete County, with its proximity to the Wasatch Front, and the largest population between U.S. 6 and Cedar City, might be turning a corner.

The most important need of Sanpete families is a job, ideally a stable, good-paying job within a reasonable commuting distance. The DWS numbers suggest we might be getting more such jobs.

Currently, the county has about 7,700 jobs. That’s up 314 jobs from a year ago. That jobs number is the biggest of any county in the Six-County Area. Over the past two years, in percentage terms, we’ve had greater job growth than in Utah as a whole. And Utah has one of the most robust state economies in the nation.

The county still has a problem regarding income. The most recent figures we could find, which were for 2013, showed per-capita income in Sanpete County at $24,738. That made us one of the poorest counties in the state. In Utah as a whole, per capita income for 2013 was $36,630. In the United States as a whole, it was $44,765.

Nonetheless, DWS reported that between third-quarter 2015 and third-quarter 2016, job income in the county rose 4 percent. That’s progress. We’ll take it.

What’s making the difference? Why is Sanpete County growing? A key factor appears to be enrollment growth at Snow College, which is creating jobs in teaching and support services. We support continued growth at the college, even if it creates “growing pains” within the Ephraim community.

Our larger private employers—Norbest, CentraCom, Freedom Innovations and ACT—continue to expand markets for their products and services beyond county and state borders. That creates jobs.

Still, a large source of jobs in the county is small businesses employing 3, 5, 10, maybe 20 workers. We need to encourage startups, especially companies outside the services industry.

A great example is Purkey’s of Manti, which manufactures electronic machines used in the trucking industry, such as a machine to charge the batteries on lift gates, the equipment at the back of trucks used to unload freight.

Another standout is A.W. Carter Furniture of Mt. Pleasant, which makes high-end custom furniture, particularly for LDS temples. Still another is Fortress Clothing, also of Mt. Pleasant, which makes a “hybrid hoodie” designed for workers who must work in extremely cold temperatures.

We support state government incentives that help such businesses get off the ground, such as the Fast Track grants of up to $50,000 to companies for capital investment.

As we celebrate good economic numbers and growing businesses, we can never forget the most fundamental, if subtle, determinant of economic prosperity.

It’s education. If local students don’t graduate with reading and math skills, if they don’t go on for at least two years of post-high school education, they won’t be able to do the jobs in 21st Century economy. And without workers to do jobs, the jobs won’t come here.

With that in mind, we commend the recent Utah Legislature for its generous support of public education and for continuing to expand the Snow College budget.

A lot of inputs go into economic growth. When we look around, we see many of those inputs right here in Sanpete County.

 

 

Friends of Historic Spring City effort on old school has been ‘incredible’

 

 

 

If there’s one volunteer group and one nonprofit effort that merits the praise of everybody in Sanpete County, it’s the Friends of Historic Spring City and their effort, running nearly 40 years, to save the old Spring City School.

The work of about 25 people to save the ornate landmark has been, in the words of Alison Anderson, one of the current leaders, “incredible.”

Most significant, the Friends have succeeded! From a flea market in the early 2000s that raised $8,000 to what appears likely to be a $100,000 appropriation from the current Utah Legislature, the Friends have raised $1.8 million.

They are now completing restoration work and have scheduled a dedication during Spring City Heritage Day, which is always on Memorial Day.

Built in 1899, the Spring City School originally consisted of eight elementary classrooms on two floors. The architect was Richard Watkins, who also designed the Spring City LDS Ward Chapel, the Piute County Courthouse and the Peteetneet Academy in Payson.

In the 1950s, the school district ceased using it as a school. For a time, camper shells were manufactured in the building. In the late 1970s, the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers purchased it from the school district with the goal of saving it.

When Craig Paulsen, a restoration contractor who is still heading up construction work, walked through the building about the time the DUP acquired it, he observed that the roof was about to collapse.

The Friends of Historic Spring City hadn’t been organized at that point. But local people, including people who later joined the Friends, scraped together enough money to reshingle the roof and keep the water out.

“For the first 20 years of the project, we just barely kept the building enclosed and standing with what money we could raise,” Paulsen recalls.

In 2002, the Friends got one of the first serious infusions of cash when they got a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts under the Save America’s Treasures program.

To get the money, they had to match the grant. The organization came up with all kinds of creative ways to do that. They got local artists to donate paintings, which were sold on Heritage Day. They charged $5 to $10 for visitors to tour historic homes. Every fall, artists opened up their studios for tours, and visitors paid to poke their noses into the studios.

Meanwhile, Yvonne Whitmore, who had grown up in Spring City and now lives in New York State, pledged $100,000 to the effort. And the organization got six $10,000 gifts, most individual gifts from its own members and some from corporations.

The turning point came in 2012, when the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) awarded a $323,000 grant and $323,000 loan to the city of Spring City for school restoration. The grant and loan came to $647,350 total.

There were two catches. First, in order to get the grant, the city had to take out the loan as a show of local commitment. Second, the city council would only accept the loan if it was paid off, not by the city but by the Friends organization.

At a public hearing, Lee Bennion, an artist and one of the pillars of the Friends, urged acceptance of the money. “We’ve scratched and clawed,” she said. “We’ve been doing this for 30 years.” Once the school project had $647,000 in its coffers, she predicted, “Big donors will say, ‘This is for real.’ ”

She was right. The city council accepted the CIB money. Subsequently, the Friends got a $100,000 grant from the George S. and Dolores Eccles Foundation. The group needs to match that grant, just as it did the Save-America’s-Treasures grant. But the group may be able to use some of the money it expects to receive from the Legislature for the match.

Lots of finishing touches need to be added before the dedication, which is a little more than two months away. We can’t wait for that event. We hope there will be an opportunity to give a standing ovation to people who made a commitment, never gave up and saved one of the most beautiful and historic structures in Sanpete County.

 

Legistlature wrestles with budgets as session nears end; $37 million rural jobs bill still pending

 

Ralph Okerlund

Senator

District 24

3-9-2017

 

 

Week 6, the last full week of the 2017 Legislative Session is in the books. Next Thursday at midnight will mark the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. At this point, we’re working to finalize the budget and complete the process of turning ideas into bills and turning those bills into law. Next week’s legislative schedule includes at least one more packed day of committee meetings, and three full days of up to 13 hours of debate on the Senate floor.

 

Setting and balancing Utah’s budget is a very deliberative process. Weeks of study and consideration by appropriations subcommittees have lead to the passing of final budget requests on to the Executive Appropriations Committee. One of the proposed changes that will be considered is a 4 percent increase in Education funding. The Executive Appropriations Committee, which is made up of Senate and House leadership, will set the final budget for the upcoming year.

 

Utah has a Constitutional requirement that we pass a balanced budget by midnight on the last day of session. That requirement, and our compliance with that mandate, has been the driving force behind the State’s high financial stability rankings for years.

 

While the Executive Appropriations Committee is focused on how to best distribute funding for projects, I am involved with a few bills that will provide rural Utah with financial increase through jobs and programs. My Rural Jobs Act bill, SB267, would generate $37 million of private investments to rural Utah small businesses within three years. This is largely by avenue of investors and capital remains invested for at least six years. Currently, the poverty in rural Utah is 14.4 percent, roughly 3-4 percent higher than urban areas, largely due to unemployment. By bringing more small businesses, which typically create two-thirds of all new jobs, into rural Utah through enticing post-performance tax credits, this bill will create a minimum of 600 new jobs. This bill has already passed out of the Senate, and is awaiting debate on the House floor.

 

Another bill awaiting debate in the House is my Oil and Gas Amendments, or SB191, which also focuses on revenue increase in rural Utah. This bill states that the Board of Oil, Gas, and Mining may make an order establishing a drilling unit or a pooling order retroactive under certain circumstances. This helps provide easier regulations for oil, gas, and mining companies, which will bring in job opportunities and income to our rural communities. The bill has passed the Senate Floor and is up for debate in the House.

 

Lastly, the bill I am especially excited to share is my Utah Outdoor Recreation Grant, or SB264. This bill creates the State Transient Room Tax Act, in which the state shall impose a tax on hotel rooms at a rate of .32 percent in order to pour $5 million into Utah’s outdoor recreation projects. 70 percent of outdoor recreation project funding benefits rural Utah counties; therefore, this bill predominately benefits our own communities and parks. Included potential projects benefited by this funding includes the Moab River Road Trail, the Provo River Restoration Project, Parley’s Trail East, Outdoor Retailer Tents, Sandy City Dry Creek Trail, and several fantastic youth outdoor groups. This bill has already passed out of the Senate, and is awaiting debate on the House Floor.

 

I have many other bills that I wish I could expound on for pages and pages. To save you the reading, I’ll stop my writing now. If you’d like to talk with me, you can reach out to my intern, Saren Winter, at (385) 441-0600 or at swinter@le.utah.gov. If you would like to promote or discourage a bill currently in the Utah Legislature, email me at rokerlund@le.utah.gov.

 

As we approach the end of the session, I am grateful for the incredible sacrifices by our soldiers and leaders which allow us to debate society’s ideas in a civilized, free fashion. I am also touched by the constituents that have raised their voices in excitement or concern towards the legislature. Democracy is guarded by those who fight for our rights with either the gun or the pen. It is an honor to represent you – my colleagues, friends, and neighbors – in this legislative arena.

 

 

 

We support DWR antler hunting ban, habitat work and OHV limitations, as part of protecting treasured wildlife

 

3-2-2017

 

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has a big job. As outlined in various wildlife management plans, that job includes protecting, propagating, conserving and distributing wildlife populations in Utah.

Because human activity can have a huge impact on wildlife, we all have a role in helping the DWR do its job.

That’s why we support DWR’s temporary ban on antler gathering, along with public-private partnerships to protect and improve wildlife habitat, and, yes, common-sense limitations on off-highway vehicles (OHVs).

Managing wildlife, primarily deer and elk, is a complicated thing. DWR has divided the state into 30 wildlife units. By putting radio collars on a random sample of animals, the agency estimates the number of deer and elk in each unit and continually updates the estimates.

Then, based on biology, DWR figures out how many deer and elk each unit can sustain. Hearings are held to get public input before final population targets are set.

From there, DWR regulates hunting with the twin goals of offering a good experience for hunters while working toward the population targets.

Meanwhile, the agency works to stem trends that are deteriorating the wildlife habitat, such as sagebrush and cheat grass taking over rangeland that formerly had a variety of shrubs, and conifers taking over aspen forests.

Since 2005, DWR, with partners such as federal agencies, private owners and nonprofit organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, has treated more than 650,000 acres. Projects have included pinyon-juniper removal, controlled burns, reseeding after wildfires, conifer thinning and even leaving water guzzlers out in the wilds for use by cattle as well as deer, elk and other species.

The numbers tell the tale of DWR’s success. In the nation as a whole, wildlife populations are declining. For instance, according to Deer Friendly, a research program at the University of Pennsylvania, from 2013 to 2014, the deer population in the United States dropped by 33 million.

In Utah, the deer population today is, indeed, lower than 50 years ago. But since 1994, when DWR capped deer hunting licenses to stop decline of the herd, the deer population has grown an average of 1.6 percent per year. In 2013, it stood at about 355,000. The long-term permanent objective, which DWR wants to achieve by 2019, is 425,000.

In March, 2013, Justin Shannon, big game manager for DWR, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Utah’s deer herds are the in the best shape they’ve been in since the early 1990s.”

Meanwhile, the estimated statewide elk population is 81,000, which is above the permanent target of about 71,000. That’s up from 18,000 in 1975. (Notably, elk populations are not above unit-specific targets on all wildlife units.)

The biggest threats to deer and elk are habitat changes and harsh winter weather. The motivation behind the antler gathering ban was weather. Because of cold and deep snow, deer and elk are having a tough time finding food. The animals are under stress.

As DWR director Greg Sheehan explained, “They cannot sustain being repeatedly moved around by shed hunters looking for antlers.”

He went a step further. “Do no approach, pick up, chase or handle wildlife,” he advised. “Even if you’re trying to help, it’s dangerous for the animals.”

In all seasons, one of the biggest issues DWR and other natural resource agencies are facing is OHVs.

The DWR mule deer management plan says, “Uncontrolled use of motorized vehicles and OHVs can cause damage to mule deer habitat and disturbance to mule deer during critical phases of their life cycle” (mainly mating and fawning).

The DWR, and state and federal land management agencies acknowledge the role OHVs play in giving people access to the beauties of the back country and even their role in hunting. But we support them in closing OHV routes or banning travel in areas where OHVs might damage wildlife.

Wildlife is a wondrous thing. More than 100,000 Utahns per year participate in deer and elk hunts. Many others go into the back country to view and photograph wildlife.

If we want these treasured experiences to continue to be available to our children and grandchildren, we need to support our Utah wildlife managers in protecting, managing and propagating wildlife.

 

Legislature bill on online sales tax going from Senate to House

 

Ralph Okerlund

Senator District 24

3-2-2017

 

With Week 5 of the 2017 Legislative Session over, we are now more than two-thirds of the way done! We have passed a total of 163 bills and they just keep on coming. This week we were also honored to hear reports from Senator Orrin Hatch and Congresswoman Mia Love.

I would like to share some of my bills currently awaiting debate on the Senate floor. One of them is SB204, or my Public Private Partnerships bill. This bill expands and allows the use of public-private partnerships in the procurement of projects. It allows more project sponsorship by 3rd party companies, and helps reduce required government budget appropriations.

Another bill of mine awaiting Senate debate is an Outdoor Recreation Grant, or SB264. This bill creates the State Transient Room Tax Act, which slightly increases tourist taxes in order to pour more money into Utah’s outdoor recreation projects. This tourist tax has been in the works since early January, and is predominately a hotel tax. Because the standard guest to a Utah-based hotel is local to a different state (i.e. Colorado, Nevada, Arizona), the tax will largely not affect Utah residents. Readers who have plans to stay in a local Utah hotel need not fret either; the tax increase is extremely minor, and will hardly add to your bill.

One current issue in the legislature is online sales tax. In Utah, our legislative fiscal analysts have estimated that around $220 million of owed sales tax go unpaid because of online purchases. While Utahns are currently required to pay sales tax for their online purchases, fewer than two-percent actually pay their owed tax. That is $220 million that we could be spending on education, infrastructure, and social services.

Because online retailers are not required to collect the owed sales tax, this also creates an unfair advantage to online retailers, and makes it difficult for our local, brick-and-mortar businesses to thrive. 1SB110 would balance the playing field and help collect the owed tax. This bill would require retailers who earn over $100,000 of sales in Utah to begin collecting sales tax. For an affiliate, the threshold is $10,000 of sales in Utah before they are required to collect sales tax. This bill passed out of the Senate this week and will now be considered by the House.

Once again, this is a shorter letter than usual. I hardly have a full report to share, largely because we didn’t have a full work week in the Senate. I’m hoping that everyone took advantage of last week’s President’s Day, and that your days aren’t as busy as mine.

Keep sending emails concerning Senate or House bills that excite or concern you. These emails have many times helped me identify potential problems and solutions to Utah’s top issues. If you’d like to meet with me, you can reach out to my intern, Saren Winter, at (335) 441-0600. You can also email her at swinter@le.utah.gov.

It is an honor to represent you- my neighbors, my colleagues, my family, and my friends.

Hot legislative topics include creating a convention of the states
Report from the Legislature

 

 

2-23-2017

 

Hot legislative topics include creating a Convention of the States

With Week Four of the 2017 Legislative Session over, we are now more than halfway done! We have passed a total of 96 bills, and they just keep on coming. Some of the bills have caught significant attention, often because they are considered controversial. Allow me to discuss some of these hot topic bills.

The Utah Legislature is considering dissolving partisan requirements in government. Currently, many state boards and commissions in Utah require there be no more than a certain number of members that belong to the same political party (e.g. seven members only).    Originally, these requirements were meant to ensure the boards contained multiple different opinions. In practice, however, these partisan requirements have created staffing problems. There are many instances in Utah where a town contains almost entirely Republican or entirely Democrat civilians. This means for instance, a local Radiation Control Board cannot be staffed by enough doctors because they filled up their party member quota, and cannot fill the opposite party affiliation slots. Furthermore, what happens when the only qualified doctor—who also happens to have the necessary partisan affiliation—lives in St. George and must commute to Salt Lake City to serve on the Board?

This bill, HB11, solves this problem by eliminating all references to partisan affiliation. Under this bill, neither the Governor nor the Senate is allowed to even consider partisan affiliation as a prerequisite to service on a board.  The purpose is to make quality the determining factor, not partisanship.

Another hot topic bill concerns Utah school grading. Over the last few years, we have worked on how to improve our school assessment and accountability systems. We want to ensure that these school systems are helping our students learn and grow— not just placing overwhelming burdens of tests and grading.

SB 220 seeks to reach the next level in school assessment and accountability by switching over from SAGE to ACT. We hope to establish a single meaningful statewide report of school performance. ACT uses multiple indicators that are focused on student-level outcomes, and also seeks collaboration with the State Board of Education and other stakeholders.

SB 220 hopes to leave normative school grading and bell curves behind, and instead establish set criteria for attaining each grade level. This bill has only begun the legislative process, and will be appearing soon on the Senate floor.

This week, our appropriation subcommittee chairs presented priority appropriation requests they want funded to the Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC). These priorities are shared in hopes that the EAC will fund the priorities in the general budget. If you are following a certain budget appropriation request, know that we are closer to hearing the funding results of our appropriation request presentations.

Lastly, I want to speak on the resolution causing the largest debate in the legislature currently: HJR 3. This resolution calls for Utah to join other states in petitioning Congress to create a Convention of the States. At this convention, states would consider amendments to the US Constitution, in order to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.

This concept has been debated for many years in almost all of the state legislatures in our country. As the resolution has been presented in both the House and Senate committees, members of the public have come to speak passionately on both sides of the issue.

Most all of them are in agreement that the federal government has grown beyond the original intentions of the Founding Fathers. Those who oppose the proposed Convention of the States have brought up that this kind of convention has never been successfully implemented.

In their eyes, there are too many unknowns and possibilities. Some believe that the chance of a “runaway” convention is too high, that there is nothing to keep nefarious delegates from proposing changes that will ultimately take away freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.

I and many of those in favor of a Convention of the States believe that the only fear should be our federal government growing unchecked. I contend that fears of a “runaway” convention are unfounded. In order for that to happen, 38 of the 50 states would have to agree to changes instituted in a “runaway” convention, and I believe that state legislators are more worthy of trust than our current US Congress.

HJR3 has passed out of both House and Senate Committees and the House Floor. Its next stop will be the Floor of the Senate for continued debate.

                That’s it for our current hot topic bills. You are welcome to join me at the Capitol any time this session, whether it be to watch voting in the 4th floor House and Senate galleries, or to share your concerns in a face-to-face meeting. If you don’t have time to come up to Salt Lake City, all floor activity in the Utah Senate Chamber is broadcasted at senate.utah.gov/webcam.html.                 Hearing your voice helps me accomplish my job to represent you. I can be reached by email at rokerlund@le.utah.gov.  If you’d like to meet with me, you can reach out to my intern, Saren Winter, by email at swinter@le.utah.gov or by phone at (335) 441-0600.

I hope to hear from you as the legislative session wraps up. I’m starting to get a little homesick, and I’m not much of a city kind of guy. I would love to see some fellow rural Utah faces this next week.

 

Senator Ralph Okerlund

Utah State Senate, District 24