Life of a Sanpete County commissioner
By Suzanne Dean
MANTI—When Steve Lund became a Sanpete County Commissioner three years ago, he “expected a meeting from time to time,” he says.
But like most people joining county commissions in Sanpete and other rural counties, he had no idea how many meetings there would be, how much he would need to learn, or how many difficult problems and dilemmas he and his fellow commissioners would have to deal with.
“Our responsibilities run the gamut from potholes to health and the economy,” he says.
A few constituents who take time to think about it understand that being a commissioner is a tough job. At a hearing last week on a proposed tax increase, one said, “I doubt there’s ever a commissioner that’s been paid for the pain they put into it.”
Serving on the commission is probably one of those things you don’t really know what it’s like until you’ve done it.
Each of the three commissioners in Sanpete County is assigned a portfolio of agencies, facilities, programs and topics.
Lund is in charge of the county fair, building inspector’s office, county roads, the courthouse and grounds, the bookmobile, planning and zoning, economic development and the Skyline Mountain and Indian Ridge Water Conservation District.
Those are his county responsibilities.
He also serves on four national or state advisory panels. Before returning to Sanpete County (where he grew up) and becoming a commissioner, Lund was a petroleum engineer. So it’s not surprising that he serves on the Energy and Environment Board for the National Association of Counties.
In Utah, he represents the county on an advisory board to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. He serves on a Central Utah regional advisory committee to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, a panel that mainly deals with wildlife. And he’s on an advisory board to the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, which deals with issues ranging from wild horses, to grazing rights, to preventing wildfires.
“I get public input from our region and take it to the state,” he explains.
In Sanpete County, being a county commissioner is supposed to be a part-time job. Often, commissioners have “day jobs” besides being public servants.
While each commissioner decides how to approach the role, Lund works at it pretty much full time. For example, Lund did something related to Sanpete County on 13 of the 15 business days between Nov. 4 and Nov. 22, plus he worked one day Saturday. On 11 of the 14 days when he did work for the county, he put in the full day or more.
Lund says there are a number of things he wasn’t aware of until he spent some time on the county commission.
“I had no ideas how interrelated the counties are with the Legislature,” he says. He spends quite a bit of time conferring with legislators who represent the county as well as legislators from other parts of the state. He expects to spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City during the next session.
He has also learned that coal mining and coal-fired power plants in Sevier, Carbon and Emery counties are critical to Sanpete County. A lot of county residents work for the mines or power plants, or in spin-off activities such as trucking. And those workers’ expenditures have a ripple effect through the Sanpete County economy.
“I wasn’t aware of how significant those are to us until I became a commissioner,” he says.
Finally, he says, “I didn’t realize how closely related we are to the federal government.” Those ties led to him spending four days in early November flying to Washington, D.C., in meetings there, and flying back.
Both Steve and his wife Melissa come from families that have been in Sanpete County for multiple generations. Lund is the son of Dale and the late Janet Lund. His father started Main Auto, the auto parts store on Main Street in Manti. His brother, Larry Lund, now runs it.
His wife, Melissa, is the daughter of Stanford and Jean Peterson of Mayfield. Her father is a dairy farmer.
He credits his wife with supporting him in all his ventures, including the commission. “She’s been incredible,” he says.
Lund attended Montana Tech in Butte, Mont. and the University of Utah before getting his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from New Mexico Tech in Socorro, N.M.
He and his family spent time in west Texas where he worked for two oil-related companies. Then he joined the company that owns Northwest Pipeline.
Northwest Pipeline, with corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City, owns a huge network of pipelines that brings natural gas from Canada to California and Texas. Lund worked for the company in Farmington, N.M. and Salt Lake City.
By the mid 1990s, the Lunds were feeling the tug of home. In 1996, they moved back to Manti. Lund taught math at Wasatch Academy for one year. He taught math and science, and coached the softball team at Manti High for six years.
But the Lunds have always had their fingers in more than one pie. They ran a sandwich shop in Manti for a while. They once managed the Manti Senior Apartments.
Meanwhile, Lund, with some partners, got into an energy-related venture. The partners started out to drill and oil and gas well in Carbon County. The didn’t strike oil or gas, but they found a large field of natural carbon dioxide underground.
They build a plant to purify and liquefy the CO2. And they began selling it to Praxiar for medical and pharmaceutical products—even soda pop.
The CO2 venture was “high risk,” Lund says, “but it’s working out really good. It’s one of the reasons I can be a commissioner.”
In 2016, the Lunds bought Sterling Store, the convenience store, gas station and post office in Sterling.
“It’s more of a dairy cow than a cash cow. You run it every day,” Lund jokes. But he says, “It’s a fun place. It’s fun to talk to the people who come in.”
The accompanying graphic gives a picture of Lund’s life from Nov. 4 to Nov. 22.
The schedule shows that on Nov. 5, he flew to Washington, D.C. where he met with natural resources staff members in Utah congressional offices. He also met with people at some industry associations.
He wanted to learn more about a law passed last year called 45Q (for its section in the federal code). The measure gives tax breaks to people who do something useful with greenhouse gases. The IRS is writing regulations to implement the law right now.
The biggest threat to coal mines and power plants in Central Utah is being shut down because they put greenhouse gases into the air, he says. He wanted to find out if any ideas are afloat for channeling the gases into useful products.
In the middle of the next week after returning from Washington, Lund drove to St. George for the annual Utah Association of Counties meeting.
He stayed in St. George a day and a half, but came back to Sanpete County on a Thursday afternoon so he could be at the monthly Mayors and Commissioners meeting that evening.
The next morning in headed back to St. George to finish out the last two days of the conference on a Friday and Saturday.
The next Monday, Nov. 18, Lund, the county auditor and the county treasurer went to Carbon County to talk with their counterparts there about the process of getting royalties from coal mining.
Mining at the Skyline Mine has crossed from Emery into Sanpete County underground. That means Sanpete is eligible for royalties on the coal being extracted. That’s good news for the county. The Sanpete officials just needed to know how to claim the royalties.
There was a county commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 19. Then on Wednesday, Nov. 20, Lund headed to Moab for an event called the Coal Strategy Forum. The conference was sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Energy, the U.S. Department of Industry, and a nongovernmental association, the United States Energy Association.
Some of the sessions dealt with coal exporting and alternative uses for coal other than power generation.
Lund was back in Sanpete County the next day, a Thursday, for a public hearing on a proposed property tax increase.
But he got up early Friday, Nov. 22, and drove back to Moab to finish out the energy conference. “I needed to attend some of the breakout sessions,” he says. “I needed to learn, to gain information.”
Commissioners make about $24,000 per year. They also qualify for county health insurance and state retirement. But the three Sanpete County commissioners typically donate $100 to $200 from each check toward charitable needs. A lot of the donations are anonymous, Lund says.
When Lund travels, he pays all of his own expenses. His paychecks help cover some of those expenses.
So what’s next? It doesn’t appear the pace will let up a lot between now and the end of the year.
This week, Lund is meeting with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in Salt Lake City about economic development.
On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, a consultant who is helping the county rewrite its planning and zoning ordinances is due to submit the first draft of the revised ordinances. Since planning and zoning is one of Lund’s areas, he is responsible for getting the draft to other commissioners and, of course, studying it himself.
The commission will be seeking input from the Planning and Zoning Commission and holding at least one public hearing. And Lund wants to get the ordinances adopted by January.
“It’s going to be busy,” he says.