Republican candidates for Kane County commissioner answered questions about issues related to eastern Kane County at a debate in Big Water on May 9.
On the ballot are two seats on the commission. Seat A candidates are Celeste Meyeres and Michael East. Seat B candidates are Patty Kubeja and incumbent Andy Gant. Republican voters in Kane County are asked to vote for one candidate for each seat in the primary election, which will be held Aug. 2.
Each candidate was allowed three minutes to introduce themselves.
Gant, current chair of Kane County Commission since 2018, and member of the Garkane Energy board, introduced himself as a transplant to Kanab from southern Oregon. He has owned and run several businesses and enjoys living in Kane County.
Kubeja moved to Kanab from Seattle, Washington. She is the oldest of seven children. She served as an officer in the military and was deployed three times, retiring in 2015.
East is currently the president and CEO of South-Central Communications and has been a member of Kanab City Council since 2016. He was born and raised in San Diego, California, is a certified public accountant, and has worked in Indiana and Maryland.
Meyeres has been a member of the Kanab City Council since 2019 and is the chair of the Kane County Republican Party. She owns two businesses with her husband Nicholas.
The candidates were each asked five questions and had three minutes to respond to each question. The order with which the candidates answered questions was changed with each question, so each candidate got a turn at being the first or last to answer.
First question: Amangiri resort produces the most transient room tax (TRT) funds in the county. Do you think these funds have been fairly distributed across the county?
East responded that TRT funds are not taxpayer funds and are to be reinvested for tourists and locals. “Do I feel they are equally distributed? No,” he said, adding that he believes in having conversations with towns, cities and unincorporated areas. There are rules for what they can be spent on.
Meyeres said the state has mandates on how to spend the funds. She believes in working with the state, and her strength is working with the Legislature. She gave an example that 53% of the funds can be spent to mitigate the effects of tourism.
Kubeja said the funds should be wisely spent and that TRT are public funds and not private funds. She said there should be a contingency fund and that the funds spent outside Kanab are not equally spent. She said that even though Amangiri does contribute to the TRT funds, when looking at the contribution based on “head count,” it is not equal with other lodging.
Gant said he agreed with the three other candidates. The pandemic increased domestic tourism and decreased international tourism. It was a banner year for the TRT. There is a bill in the Legislature to allocate funds differently, and the state allocates the funds with “strings” attached. Gant believes the county should have more of a say in the use of the funds and that there is a need to improve county infrastructure.
Second question: Church Wells is currently upgrading its water system and roads. They are bringing roads to county standards so that the county can help maintain the roads. What can the commissioners do to help get a turn lane for Church Wells and other infrastructure needs?
Gant said he would like to see a water conservation district, adding that there is “tons of money coming in and water systems are on the top of the list.” He would like to see a conversation about the roads. There was a gas tax increase that would be used on roads and allocated to the counties by miles of roads and work with the state so “rural areas are not screwed.”
Kubeja said there are various classes of roads. As an example, in the Vermilion Cliffs development, the developer didn’t do the roads and residents are having to pay around $7,000 to upgrade them. Church Wells would have to pay to bring the roads up to county standards before the county would do the maintenance and paving.
Meyeres responded by saying that it was a complicated issue and people should fight for community rights. There has been an American Rescue Plan Grant for water and roads in Church Wells, and Kane County “cannot take on new roads.”
East responded by saying that the county infrastructure needs are diverse.
“People in Kanab call it Kanab County,” he said, adding that there is a need to talk with other areas and to do more with less.
He agreed that something needed to be done for roads.
“There aren’t conversations being had here (in Big Water),’ he said, adding that he was willing to work with Utah Department of Transportation for turn lanes.
Third question: The Clark Bench and New Paria areas do not seem to be part of the decision making process for special services, trash, roads and water.
Meyeres said there are requirements from the state and that it is a struggle with the level of service with water systems. She would like to work together to improve services. For unincorporated areas, there is responsibility without power. Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) lands inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were traded for lands outside of the monument. Local residents have little say in what happens on those lands.
East believed that special service districts are the answer to the infrastructure issues and that residents are “all in this together.” He urged Clark Bench and New Paria to join the conservation district and water shares transferred to the district. He said looked forward to addressing water needs and to frame a conversation with SITLA, Kane County and towns.
Kubeja said the number one concern was fire protection, and this was outside of the TRT “box” as it was not specifically identified as an approved use of funds. She said she wanted to work together for solutions.
Gant said Cedar Mountain was ahead of the rest of the county. There were many ways to fund locally. Big Water could get its own agreement and use the Cedar Mountain agreement as an example.
Question 4: SITLA land use affects Big Water. The Bureau of Land Management promised land before the monument but was cut out before the monument was established. What can be done about the SITLA lands?
“It’s a noble concept. Governor Leavitt sold out,” Gant said, adding, “Private land in the Grand Staircase was taken by the Clinton Administration.”
SITLA has all of the control over the lands, and their mission is to get the most money for the state school systems. He said he doesn’t like the “mother may I” approach to SITLA.
Kubeja wasn’t aware of SITLA until a city council meeting. She asked if there is any documentation about Big Water getting land and said that the county should help with a lawsuit. She said they do take consideration of public input and that it is all about profit for SITLA.
Meyeres said she has talked to the “SITLA people” and knows who to talk to and believes it is good for county commissioners to know who to talk to. SITLA proposed a Maverik station on condition that the sewer was available. Then state code kicks in. She said it is a “roller coaster” system.
“If Big Water doesn’t want the Maverik station, then they will just have to wait and the only out is working with the state legislature and work with other counties,” Meyeres said.
East said a way needed to be found to work together and “be careful what you ask for.” When the golf course didn’t come to pass, instead a 100-acre tract will see 500 homes with two cars per home going up a hill. He said SITLA mandates that they obtain the most money from the land and can wait.
“SITLA stinks but we can be part of the solution,” he said.
Question 5: Big Water Fire Department has been extremely successful, and the department has dedicated their heart and soul. As the county grows, what can you do to help Big Water get its share of funding to keep up with the growth?
East said there are limits with TRT funds. Fire equipment is outrageously expensive. The needs in Kane County are different than in Salt Lake City, he said. Adding that until there’s more flexibility, the county is left with special services districts.
Meyeres said that under the current parameters, TRT funds cannot be spent on fire protection and for this year, there’s no flexibility. She suggested that TRT funds could be used elsewhere for eligible work, and then fire protection could be funded with the other funds. It would be good to work with the county and county attorney to help decide. There is responsibility for local communities but no power, she said.
Kubeja said Kane county has made great strides for fire districts. She said would like to see a fire station between Big Water and Johnson Canyon. She supports seeing what can be done for Kane County. Cedar Mountain may have a difference in income level from Big Water and other areas of Kane County.
Gant said Big Water has done an amazing job to get the Amangiri agreement. TRT funds could dry up if there’s an economic downturn. TRT funds cannot be used for general budget items.
Gant said that he doesn’t want to see Kane County be like Grant County that funded positions and other things and got in trouble. The service district ended up shutting down and handed back to taxpayers. A solution could be to use funds from new businesses to set up infrastructure and get development agreements, from a portion of what the business generates. State guidelines need to be followed to the letter. He urges people to be present for development reviews and “hold the developers feet to the fire.”
A video of the meeting was available on YouTube after the meeting at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ax3Z90OGC50.