Supporting Rural Utah
By Mike Mower
Deputy Chief of Staff
As an aide to Governor Gary Herbert, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is traveling with him as he visits people all across Utah. Governor Herbert wants to hear first hand from Utah residents on the issues that impact their lives. It is a top priority for him. For example, Governor Herbert has already been to Richfield at least half a dozen times this year to meet with residents and elected officials and work on issues as diverse as flooding on the Sevier River, public lands, mining, tourism, and economic development.
Recently, Governor Herbert travelled to Loa, the country seat of Wayne County, to attend a meeting hosted by their county commissioners, Thomas Jeffrey, DeRae Fillmore, and Robert Williams. A few dozens residents showed up to share their concerns. The primary topics: jobs, public lands, and education.
Wayne County recently lost their largest employers when a business that provided help for at-risk teens suddenly closed. More than two hundred jobs were lost in a county whose population is around 2,500. However, the “can-do” spirit that is prevalent in rural Utah remains in abundance in Wayne County. Local leaders and entrepreneurs are already at work at finding ways to replace those jobs.
Public land issues are also a hot topic in a county where less than ten percent of the land is privately owned. This presents a tremendous challenge for local governments in the area. There is little property tax revenue to rely upon while trying to meet the needs of local residents and tourists who visit Wayne County treasures like Capitol Reef National Park. Governor Herbert pledged his on-going support to find workable solutions to challenges as diverse as developing the local economy, tourism promotion, RS2477 roads, timber harvesting on National Forest lands. In these efforts, Governor Herbert is working closely with Wayne County legislators, Senator Ralph Okerlund and Representative Mike Noel.
The lack of private, taxable land in Wayne County directly impacts the local school district. It limits the amount of funding available for students in the district that stretches from Loa to Hanksville. The new superintendant of Wayne County schools encouraged the Governor to make certain adequate applied technology training is available for Wayne High graduates. While he noted a college education is important for many students, others require vocational training in order to have the skills necessary to work in jobs that are available in the area. The Governor expressed his on-going support for both vocational and higher education programs.
The day after returning to the office, I received a letter from Mayor Adus Dorsey, of Torrey, Utah. His comments highlight the challenges and hope of local officials all throughout Wayne County and the state:
Again thanks for your visit to Wayne County. From my personal experience Wayne County is the most unique place in my world, and I can honestly say I learn and see something new everyday. Personally and politically living in Wayne County has not been easy in fact my first year as Mayor of Torrey was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I was particularly encouraged by Governor Herbert’s remark about “closing the gap” as that has been my biggest hurdle in the past year and half. Locally information and state resources are our best friends when it comes to getting time sensitive projects accomplished and without them the ground is shaky and uncertain and if things get too shaky and uncertain things start to fall apart from within.
I do count Senator Ralph Okerlund and the Wayne County Commissioners as my mentors; I know I can call on them at any time for advice. But there have been times that a higher power is needed and I sometimes struggle to make that connection and as I am sure you are aware there is nothing like friends in high places to make things happen.
The Governor pinned the tail square on the donkey when he said that “local government is where the rubber meets the road” and I can personally attest to that. On a daily basis I might have to deal with dog bites and major water distribution issues in the course of a Ruben sandwich at the local deli. Throw in the passing of a fellow Torrey Town resident and I might find myself digging a grave at the cemetery before supper which is a round about way brings me back to your and the Governors Wayne County visit and its personal importance.
Some of the remarks made in the Wayne County Commissioners Chambers particularly by Wayne County’s Clerk Ryan Torgerson about protecting our personal heritage and culture in Utah should ring as loud as the liberty bell Heritage and culture are the real issues and the lessons we have been taught to live by and we want to be able to pass those lessons on to generations that are sure to follow. Ranching, timber, and mining run deep in the blood lines of Utah and are the life blood of many small Utah communities. As important as it is for our local leaders to know the needs of the community they serve it is also important for our state and federal elected official to recognize where the “rubber meets the road,” or in our case where the horse hoof meets the trail and the sawmill makes the wood.
Thanks for your visit to Wayne County and your willingness to listen. We may be small but we are mighty, hear our voice.
Mayor Adus F. Dorsey II