SALT LAKE CITY—Two local legislators, Sen. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, and Rep. Steve Lund, R-Manti, are backing, and in some cases, sponsoring a number of measures in the current session that would benefit Sanpete County specifically.
Owens lives in Sanpete County but represents 10 rural counties. His district takes in some rural parts of Utah County along with Juab, Millard, Beaver, Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Garfield and Kane counties.
Lund’s district, which has changed a little because of redistricting, represents all of Sanpete County, Juab County east of U.S. 6 (including Nephi and Levan) and a small part of Utah County on both sides of I-15 north of the Juab County line.
A big focus for both legislators is getting funding approved for a new state courthouse in Manti. A couple of years ago, the Utah Administrative Office of Courts acquired land immediately south of the Sanpete County Courthouse, demolished buildings and fenced the site at a cost of about $1 million. Since then, the property has just been sitting.
Law enforcement officials say the current Sanpete County Courthouse is the least secure court site in the state. The proposed new court building has been the No. 1 capital priority for the Administrative Office of Courts for six years. In November, the Utah State Building Board ranked it as the No. 3 priority among all non-higher education buildings. The building was also included in Gov. Spencer Cox’s budget.
The current price tag is about $16 million. In an interview over the weekend, Lund said he and Owens have “spent a lot of time building the support we think we need” to get the funding approved.
Numerous court buildings have been built around the state in the past 10-15 years. In some cases, a local jurisdiction has put up some of the funding while in other cases all of the money has come from the state. Lund said a few legislators are looking for “local participation” in the Manti project. But neither Manti City nor Sanpete County have any money in their budgets for the building.
Owens, who was also interviewed last weekend, was more optimistic. “The courthouse is going to be a big win,” he said. “I think it’s going to pass.”
Owens has also introduced a bill to fix a situation that has been a sore spot with Sanpete County leaders for several years. The bill would relieve the county of paying attorney bills for inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility who commit crimes in prison.
In February 2021, the Sanpete County Commission voted “under duress” to pay a bill from the state for more than $190,000 for public defenders for inmates during 2020. The bill for 2019 was $116,221. Money to pay the bills came from Sanpete County taxpayers.
The county first agreed to pay public defender costs for inmates shortly after the prison opened in 1989. But circumstances have changed, Owens said.
Owens says his bill would remove the burden from Sanpete County and “spread it across the state.” One approach, he said, would be to charge public defender costs to an inmate’s county of residence based on his or her zip code at the time of arrest or sentencing.
Meanwhile, Lund is working on a special funding request, known as a “Request for Appropriation” (RFA) for both the Sanpete and Juab County fairgrounds. Once in a while, the Legislature does appropriate relatively small amounts to help with local projects. In 2017, the Legislature appropriated $100,000 to help complete restoration of the Spring City School.
After raising and spending more than $1 million to upgrade the Sanpete County Fairgrounds, the Fair Board has been trying to complete the last item in the fairgrounds’ master plan—an addition to the back side of the north grandstand containing a ticket booth, concession stand and restrooms. The last cost estimate was $750,000.
The project has not qualified for funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) or the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the two big federal spending bills that brought substantial funds to county government. Lund said the state money he is requesting would go toward the restroom addition.
He is also sponsoring an RFA for the Cleone Peterson Eccles Equestrian Center in Mt. Pleasant. If appropriated, the state funds would build a warm-up building west of the ConToy Arena where horses and riders could wait before entering the arena. The estimated cost of the building is $340,000.
Monte Bona, director of the Mt. Pleasant Community Development and Renewal Agency, said horses and riders currently wait outside the arena. In the winter, the area gets congested, and horses sometimes get bogged down in mud. He said the building would solve “a real safety concern” for the expensive horse participants brought to competitions at ConToy.
Lund is also sponsoring a bill to give local governments the power to change speed limits on local roads. “There are some narrow roads not owned by the state,” he said, “where local governments can’t change the speed limit without a traffic engineering study” and without signoff from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
He said the Sanpete County Commission looked into lowering the speed limit on the Six-Mile Canyon Road so ATVs “don’t create such a cloud of dust.” Then the commission learned the county would have to pay for an expensive traffic study, which didn’t make sense on such a remote, sparsely traveled road.