A while ago, several years back there were line items in the annual Defense Appropriations bill that were extremely alarming. The language enabled the military to be used to arrest and detain, indefinitely, United States Citizens. This was a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. I was the Carbon County Republican Party State Central Committee Delegate. At the next State Central Committee Meeting I accosted our long time Senator Orrin Hatch about this. Mr. Hatch, with his short stature, stuck his nose in the air and blurted “You just don’t understand!” from that point forward I did not support Mr. Hatch. He, however is a very accomplished campaigner and gets himself reelected.
Today there is another scenario “That I just don’t understand.” There is a myriad of rumors, innuendo, and details surrounding the Carbon County Commissioners proposal to raise our taxes not just a little but a gigantic amount.
There are a lot of questions that need asked and so far there haven’t been sufficient answers and explanations.
1] The Sun Advocate recently buried in an article stated that wages (employment numbers go with that) put Carbon County in the second to last economically for the state of Utah. Historically I understand the Carbon County Commissioners each received a stipend of $600/mo. for their services. I would presume that that travel expenses on County Commission business would be covered. Rumor is that this County Commission class has voted themselves a wage and benefit package totaling over $83 thousand dollars a year. This amounts to close to $1,600 per week per commissioner. Times three commissioners this compensation package approaches a quarter of a million dollars a year. I worked for nearly 30 years underground and I never got anywhere close to $1,600 / week. This is rather grandiose for a community next to the bottom of the state economically. Raised during the comment period was the detail that commissioners receive a pension. How many commissioners have put in 15 or 20 or more years to justify a pension? Do Carbon County Commissioners award themselves a pension after only one term?
2] The dump: I sat in a Commission meeting where bids regarding the sale of scrap metal were being opened and discussed. J&B Salvage had proffered a bid to use a floating scale tied to market for the purchase from the county of scrap metal from the dump. If the price of scrap steel should go up the compensation back to the county would rise. There was a floor, bottom price, built in. Mr. Hopes spoke out against this offer in favor of a much lower, fixed rate bid. I was under the impression that this was going to be a sweetheart deal continuing. The following morning I had occasion to call and talk to J&B Salvage, concerning current prices for steel and aluminum that we were going to dispose of. I mention to the owner having seen his frustration the evening before. He told me that he had previously offered to the County Commission to assume the operation of the dump, providing staff, and fuel at no expense to the county treasury in exchange for anything he could and wanted to salvage. J & B Salvage’s owner then went on to tell me that people were going through the trash at the dump, mostly after hours and were bringing their metals salvage to him. He indicated that this “stolen?” salvage sometimes amounted to several thousand dollars a month. Heard at the open house was that the dump with a $5 per pickup charge was approaching parity.
3] The County Attorney’s Office: I noticed to Casey Hopes that I had seen where the attorney’s office had engaged another Assistant County Attorney. Mr. Hopes was quick to say that the new attorney was not an employee but was contracted. I then asked if he worked for free. Nominally an attorney would cost in the neighborhood of around $100,000 per year whether he is employed or contracted. Mr. Hopes was quick to note that with the additional attorney on staff the County Attorney’s Office had begun to clear backlog, cases that had languished without being completed. The languishing of court cases I do have some experience in observing. My ex-son-in-law, RBC’s case was sixteen or so months from initial arrest until he was coerced by his public defender into an illegal plea deal, a plea deal that the County Attorney doesn’t seem to have record of, so much for the Constitutional Right to a quick and speedy trial. A friend, CK told me that he had had a conversation regarding Constitutional Rights not being exercised here in Carbon County. A soon to be ex-mayor of Price told him “They sort of make their own rules down there.”
When Jeff Wood was running for Sherriff he ran on the principle of good clean arrests based on clear, clean, evidence, prompt court action, conviction or exoneration, immediate evaluation, prompt correction and getting the perpetrators integrated back into society becoming healthy productive citizens contributing to society and paying taxes.
4] The new7th District Court house: I made an point to speak at a very under attended County Commission public meeting concerning the building and design of the new courthouse. Allegedly the bonding and repayments will be covered by the states leasing of the new court house. I spoke extensively concerning the operation of the future building and recommending an architect firm that specialize in not just construction but in building to effectively lower the cost of the future operation of the building. On a large commercial, public building the cost of operation and maintenance over the life of the building will typically exceed the initial cost of construction. I was politely informed that the state’s institutional building department would be handling all of those details and Carbon County had nothing to do with that, really, time will bear this out. I remember the construction not too long ago of the building that the 7th District Court currently is in. This relatively new building is literally falling apart, for example look at the handicap water closet (toilet) in the men’s room that is hanging off of the broken wall behind it. This is state institutional designed, supervised construction. As owner of the building the County will ultimately be very involved in the maintenance of this asset. In discussion on the ground after this last public meeting I heard that our commission had approached the state asking to get this court house built now. I heard that the state had scheduled that this court house was 18th in line for replacement but the Carbon County Commission asked and pushed to get this done here now. Tentatively there should have been some economic spin off into the community regarding this construction effort. I know that a friend of mine, that had worked with the courthouse’s general contractor previously, elsewhere, when he went looking for work was told to “Get the H*** out of here, or I’ll have you arrested for trespass!” Where is the usage of local labor? I know how this works. I worked construction as a tramp construction electrician for nearly 10 years between stints of employment in our local coal mines. This project is reminiscent of when the East Carbon Power Plant was to be built. The promoters, developers had gone to the County Commission for a bond endorsement. This was going to be at no cost to the county commission. The commission voted to endorse the project, enabling the bonding, funding, construction to proceed. The condition for the endorsement was that the construction and operation would employ local labor. At that time we had qualified welders, boiler makers, and electricians available locally having previously helped build the Huntington and Hunter Power Plants. The contract for construction went to TIC, The Industrial Company, who promptly brought in talent from out of state, out of the area. The subsequent operational personnel were also brought in from out of state, out of the area. This current situation with this new court house construction sure looks like the TIC boondoggle all over again. This discussion doesn’t even begin to broach potential cost overruns. Who pays for those?
5] Sheriff’s Office: I helped elect Sheriff Jeff Wood, overall I think we got the right man. Previous SO administration had adopted a rather laissez-faire approach to drug enforcement. “It’s going to happen so don’t get in the way.” This approach has put Carbon County in the top, statewide since the year 2002 for opioid, opiate and suicide deaths. Law enforcement is required. I do remember years ago calling the Sheriff’s office concerning a large semi-truck parked in the middle of a county road refusing to move and the driver becoming mouthy. I called and was patched through to a Deputy Sheriff on patrol and who told me that he was on the other end of the county and wouldn’t come. Noteworthy was I was calling from the closest landline which was the Peerless Port of Entry. The Utah Highway Patrol officer manning the Port over hearing my phone call from his phone and being that this was open rifle deer season and seeing my bandolier of 30 ought 6 shells suggested a rather radical solution to a driver refusing to move his truck. This is totally unacceptable. The then Sheriff approached me and told me that if that should ever happen again to let him know. I have told Sheriff Wood of issues, specifically concerning drugs and illegal drug usage and he has been receptive and a bit more proactive. I have emailed him on matters and he has responded albeit not instantaneously. He is extremely busy, regularly working three phones simultaneously.
Drug miss-use is still the unspoken, unseen elephant in the room. This was excruciatingly painful this past Sunday with another very attractive young lady dying from a Heroin overdose. I personally am appalled about the ready availability of Heroin and Meth in our community. Sheriff Wood’s involvement in several anti-drug efforts has been appreciated.
We need to be changing the paradigm of how we do business. It was recently brought to my attention that a local church organization had offered to fund an emergency travelers fund for people traveling needing such as emergency repairs or fuel or food to be handled through the Sheriff’s Office, for whatever reason this hasn’t happened. I understand that this would require County Commission approval. This would be a paradigm shift, to allow private, faith based organizations to assist needy situations through the Sheriff’s Office.
The County Commission meeting I attended included a bid opening for a new vehicle for the Sheriff’s Office. I understood that the stated need would be for a vehicle to be equipped to be used primarily, if not exclusively, for transferring prisoners from County lockup to USP-Draper. What does this vehicle do the rest of the time, sit in a garage? I just read how a rural police force typically does a hot seat vehicle use. Shift change, officer gets out of his patrol car, next shift officer gets in. The car never sits in some ones driveway while that officer is off duty. Cuts and cost effectiveness needs to prevail throughout the county.
6] County road: This is something I do know a bit about. I took an elective while attending school back in the early 70’s a course taught by the ROTC Dept. on campus on horizontal construction i.e. roads and airfields. Since leaving college I have been working primarily in the coal industry but I have done outside work owning, operating backhoes and dump trucks. Sheriff Wood spoke over a year ago concerning culverts and drainages-washes being cleaned and cleared before the possible microburst rainfalls triggering flooding in September. Here in Spring Glen there is an old “double box culvert” under Spring Glen Rd at the first intersection to go under the railroad. The south side of the double box is mostly clear. The north side is mostly plugged, maybe one half to five eights or more plugged. This has not been cleaned in probably 20 plus years as trees of several inches are growing out from the dirt and mud that plugs this culvert.
The area under this rail road bridge here in Spring Glen has flooded twice in three years. The first flood did extensive damage to several properties to the East of the rail road bridge.
My research is that the State owns Spring Glen Road and the County would nominally be responsible for cleaning the approaches to this culvert and the washes. I was assured by the State Road supervisor responsible from Price to Soldier Summit that plans were tentative to coordinate with Carbon County Roads to clean this culvert. Specifically the State Road Dept. does not have any skid steer loaders or Bobcat type loader in their vehicle inventory or a crawler backhoe. Carbon County does or at least a skid steer loader could be rented. The state would provide dump trucks, the county would provide skid steer loader to go into this culvert and dig it out, clean it. The county would provide a crawler backhoe to lift the muck out and into the trucks to be hauled away. This has never happened. What has happened was I came home to find equipment working on the wash to the west of the plugged culvert. A day or two later I checked and the culvert was as blocked as before. The wash to the west toward the price river was partially cleared out. I made an appointment with Commissioner Casey Hopes to get together at the culvert in question. He came with the county engineer and the county road supervisor. We met together. It seems that the state road had seen where flooding had undermined a retaining wall collapsing it into the wash. The state issued a permit to clean 50 feet of wash and remove the concrete. The state asked Carbon County to do the work with their equipment. I asked why the culvert hadn’t been cleaned. I was told that the permit was only to clean 50 fee of the wash west toward the Price River. I know what is involved in mobilizing equipment, men and materials. I was told that to clean the upstream toward Spring Glen Main Street would be expensive and the County did not have funds to do that. In the meantime my neighbor now has had his retaining wall ripped out exposing his home to potential future flooding and is left exposed. If flooding should occur again as it has twice, two fifty year floods, in that past four years is the county or the state ready to indemnify this home owner.
In the meantime the county is entertaining bids to remove excess fuel wood from 31 acres on the Price River. Who is going to pay for that? Especially when we can’t get washes and culverts cleaned even when equipment has come and gone. Is this going to be another sweetheart deal to a private construction company? The community could use firewood this coming winter especially since historical supplies of lump coal are no longer available. Could capable citizens be allowed to glean the downed fuel wood? Would the county allow this or “Get the H*** out of here, or I’ll have you arrested for trespass!”
There are a lot of people that are not particularly pleased with how the County Road Dept. and the management and maintenance of our roads have occurred. To the people that know and are concerned about these crucial, expensive details I applaud them.
7] The County Commission allowed two minutes for each speaker. I spoke for a whopping 1 min. 38 seconds leaving 22 seconds. This is not nearly enough to delve into these issues. To reiterate what I said. The buzz word phrase has been “mineral lease revenues are down and to maintain services at their present level we have to raise taxes.” I am sorry. We have to cut, cut people, cut benefits, cut salaries. Historically people’s spending rise to their incomes. When incomes are up people and county commissions spend more. When people’s incomes drop they go through a pain full convolution and adjust to spend less. The current class of commissioners proposes to simply tax to compensate. Our BYMs, Bright Young Minds are leaving Carbon County. We are becoming a retirement, bedroom community. Look at the demographics and age statistics. I attend BEAR, Business Expansion and Retention. The most successful, new to our area, business presented involves retrofitting houses and bathrooms in our area to be handicapped and elderly accessible. Their business has been so good that they currently have an 18 month backlog.
My ex-son-in-law, RBC, from USP-Draper receives the Sun Advocate which he reads closely. This week I received a letter from him. He writes nearly daily, which is to remind me that he is still alive even though the prison is proactively, slowly trying to kill him. He wrote the following: “Maybe the county commissioners could take a course in Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Government has to learn to not depend on money that could fluctuate. If there are less mineral revenues for them then there are less revenues for everyone – making the higher taxes an impossible expectation. Promote business, build economy then collect that lost revenue in new ways until the mineral revenue returns.” To think that Commissioner Mellor is a financial planner.
8] Mineral Revenue: Comment and discussion was in the audience concerning the detail that Carbon County actually owns coal property near Scofield. The demand for coal from Carbon County and this area is high. Our coal is high BTU, typically 11-12 thousand BTU/lb. low sulfur, typically < 1% as compared to Wyoming, Powder River Basin in the 10-11thousand BTU and sulfur sometimes as high as 2 +/- %. Coals used-burned in Texas are softer, lignite and run BTU’s in the 8-9 thousand range with sulfurs and mercury content rather high. Compare to coal in the Appalachia Mountains at 2-3 % sulfur. This coal burned in Eastern United States directly causes acid rain. Acid rain that damages trees to the point of the killing many square miles of trees in the East.
Warren Buffet and Rocky Mtn. Power closed the Deer Creek Mine with the intention of raising the cost or your electricity. So far they are being successful as incremental rate increases are scheduled for the next several years. The closing of the Deer Creek Mine locked away possibly as much as 20 million tons of coal reserve.
Carbon County should have no business in holding this asset, this coal property, and implying government competition with free enterprise. This coal property needs to be sold on the open market for open, competitive, bid not another sweet heart deal.
Coal that was delivered to the Huntington Power Plant at 3-1/2 to 4 Million tons/year from the Deer Creek mine is now being replaced with about a million tons being trucked in. This causes wear and tear on our roads. To avoid coal trucks coming through Price city Ridge Road was upgraded. When Jake Mellor was running for commissioner the head of the Savage Brothers terminal was briefly running against him until he was promoted out of the area to SLC. One key issue then was to simply get Ridge Road repainted, restriped. This is crucial to the safe operation of big coal hauling, double trailer, bullets. I would think that the county should be able to accomplish this on a regular basis or convey this road to the state moving the ownership, operation and maintenance to the state.
9] The golf course: When Bob Etzel got up to speak for the allotted 2 minutes, he handed the county commissioners each a “bill”. The term bill can be somewhat misleading. In this situation this would be more correctly an invoice, for $500,000. Mr. Etzel’s comments and explanation in the allotted 2 minutes were a bit unclear. I was able to give him my arm to help escort him from the building to his car. He explained that the county, when they built the first 9 holes of the golf course back in the 60’s promised to pay him $100 monthly and he has never been paid. This proposed tax increase together with all the money that he has been accessed previously and has paid, has now precipitated him needing to have the county make good on their long ago agreement with him.
Wrapped around the newer 9 holes of the golf course are some premium residences. The road that I helped build into what was the Calvary Baptist Church – Sentry Christian Academy was used to round the golf course to access these new houses. Bob Etzel bought the Calvary Baptist property from their bankruptcy. This property later was leased to Pinnacle Charter Academy. Years later I was contacted to come in and discuss what I knew about the property boundaries to the North side of the Calvary property. The road that departed from the Calvary Property access road, that runs on the south end of the newer 9 holes was built on the Calvary Baptist property. Mr. Etzel having acquired the Calvary Baptist property had become aware of this new county road being on his property. Mr. Etzel proposed that the county purchase the ground that this road was on or move the road onto the golf course and vacate his ground. The county surveyor was brought in and resurveyed and confirmed that the county road was built on private property. The then county commissioners didn’t want to accept this conclusion and called for a state office surveyor to come down and resurvey the property that this new road was on. The state surveyor concurred; the new county road accessing this premium subdivision was on private property. I was never involved in the final determination.
My wife, FAD, and I were travelling, on a Saturday morning to a meeting in SLC some time back. We heard a caller into a talk show complain about how a first grader, little boy in their local school district was being charged with, oh my, gun violence, for having taken a wooden replica of the state of Florida and holding the Florida panhandle in his hand pointed the effigy of the state a fellow student and saying bang, bang. The host of the program then made a rather novel statement: “That’s your fault!” The discussion then evolved about how these nutcase policies of charging a little boy for being a little boy were the direct result of him personally not getting involved. Not attending school board meetings. Not making himself, his face and his name known, his feeling known to each board member. The radical anti-gun policy is the result of the liberal anti-gun radical who do this, influence policy, leading to charging a little boy for being a little boy.
My point is historically we have enjoyed a lot of employment in our local mines. People get up, go to work, come home, raise kids and life goes merrily on its way. Now suddenly the county commission proposes to make a gigantic jump in taxes. It is time to make your wishes and thoughts known. Have you as a Carbon County Citizen, Resident reading this followed what has been going on here. Have you attended Carbon County Commission meetings? Are you, your face and your feelings concerning the business of the county known personally to the individual commissioners? Maybe it’s time for some picket lines and maybe more vocal demonstration of disapproval?
Jim Darter, Spring Glen, Utah
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