BLUFF, San Juan County — The small community of Bluff in southeast Utah soon will become the state’s newest town after residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of incorporation this week.
Bluff, located in southern San Juan County near Bears Ears National Monument, has about 250 residents.
In Tuesday’s election, 90 people voted in favor of incorporation and 32 voted against, according to San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson.
Brant Murray, co-chair of the Bluff Incorporation Committee, said Bluff’s citizens are planning for the future.
“I think the people of Bluff are excited about this opportunity for self-governance,” Murray said.
Currently, Bluff is known as a “service area” that is governed by a board of trustees with limited responsibilities, Murray said.
Once it’s officially incorporated, Bluff will become the 247th municipality in Utah, according to the Utah League of Cities and Towns. It was first settled in 1880, and previously was incorporated from 1976-1978, according to the San Juan Record.
A town council election will take place in June. After the council is seated, local leaders will file for incorporation, Murray said. In the meantime, a general town plan will be created.
Having a town council will give Bluff residents more local control over services such trash collection and water, which currently are administered by San Juan County, Murray said.
It will be easier for Bluff to apply for grants as an officially incorporated town, Murray said.
Some of the area’s residents opposed incorporation, wondering if Bluff could support itself financially on its own.
Others were concerned about the town’s new boundaries, according to the San Juan Record. The new town of Bluff will cover an area of about 38 square miles, including the town center and several nearby canyons.
Murray said a financial feasibility study done by Salt Lake City-based Bonneville Research concluded that an incorporated Bluff could provide the same level of services to its residents without a raise in property taxes.
People in Bluff see that the area is changing, especially with the rise in publicity in tourism due to Bears Ears National Monument, Murray said.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Utah in December, and he might announce boundary reductions for Bears Ears, as well as Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.
The monument has made national headlines multiple times over the past year, and it’s drawing tourists to San Juan County who patronize hotels and restaurants in Bluff, Murray said.
“We see change is inevitable here with all the publicity with the Bears Ears coming or going,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent on the town of Bluff to try to get ready for the future and we can do that independently of the status of the monument. I think it’s going to be good.”
Once it’s established, the town council will work to gather input from residents on what they want Bluff to look like over the next 25 to 30 years, Murray said. They’ll start slow, moving the town forward at a pace the residents can afford, he said.
“We’ve got a really good group of folks that can make this thing happen in a way that’s going to keep Bluff, Bluff,” Murray said. “That’s our motto: Keep Bluff, Bluff.”