For a decade, federal, Utah and Daggett County officials agreed it would be a good idea to privatize the tiny, federally owned town of Dutch John near Flaming Gorge Dam in eastern Utah.
But a Senate hearing Wednesday showed they still can't agree on the details. Consequently, detaching the town (born 40 years ago to house workers who built the dam) from federal control may still be years away.The hangup is money, although Utah officials told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee the problem really has been solved, and federal bureaucrats would realize it if they would simply listen better.
The problem is Daggett County wants the federal government to pay it $300,000 a year for 15 years to take over basic fire, police, trash collection and other services until the town has a chance to build up a tax base to cover such expenses.
Tiny Daggett County has only 700 residents and a budget of $1 million a year. The federal government has paid $900,000 a year to provide such services itself in Dutch John, population 175, so Daggett County worries that taking over the town services without federal transition funding could bankrupt it.
However, Steve Richardson, director of the Interior Department's Office of Policy and External Affairs, said the Clinton administration "objects to funding transition costs beyond five years," which is 10 years and $3 million less than what Daggett County seeks.
Daggett County Commissioner Chad Reed said that's unreasonable, especially because the transition money is not really coming from the federal government itself. Most is coming from power companies that buy electricity from Flaming Gorge Dam.
And those power users testified Wednesday that they favor continuing the payments for the full 15 years, saying it will actually save money in the long run by bringing the long-sought privatization, instead of leaving it in limbo.
"We think it is reasonable and acceptable," said Deborah Sliz, Washington representative of the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, who said 95 percent of the transition money would come from power user's payments.
"Ultimately, it will result in cost savings to electrical users" in Western cities that buy hydro-power from the dam, she said.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who sponsors a bill to privatize Dutch John, said the deal sought by Daggett County is a win-win situation, even if federal officials don't realize it.
"The Bureau of Reclamation would save anywhere from about $300,000 to $700,000 each year through privatization," because it would no longer have to pay for services in the town, he said.
Also, people living there, mostly Bureau of Reclamation and Forest Service workers, could buy the homes they now rent from the government. And Daggett County could expand and maybe build up a tax-producing tourist industry in Dutch John.