As one of the only licensed county officials in Utah, the county surveyor’s job is to create and manage safeguards that protect every citizen’s right to own and quietly enjoy property.
This has always been an important part of local government and was one of the first of four locally-elected offices ever created in Utah, along with the county recorder, water master, and marshal (now called sheriff). Each job was viewed as critical to the foundation and welfare of an organized community. In fact, three of the four people depicted on Mt. Rushmore were county surveyors at one time.
Thomas Jefferson developed the idea of creating the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) as a means to create accurate, organized boundaries and descriptions to enable the sale and settlement of western lands that prepared regional areas for statehood. The US Congress adopted the system through the Land Ordinance of 1785. This same system is utilized and protected by county surveyors to this day, who are one of only a few licensed elected officials.
While the land in Utah has been mapped out for some time, county surveyors have the important job of ensuring that those markers, boundaries, and descriptions are all protected. And that they continue to provide accurate information about the location and size of every piece of land.
Sometimes markers get moved or boundaries need to change. However, only a county surveyor can approve and execute changes within the official records of Utah’s public land survey system. To do this, county surveyors use expert professional judgement, sophisticated mapping technology and research methods that also include aerial photography and on-the-ground inspections.
Many critical public and private agencies and services rely on the work county surveyors do as a foundation for the support they provide communities and citizens.
Let’s say your neighbor’s house catches on fire and you call 9-1-1. One of the first questions a dispatcher will ask is where the fire is located. Your street and house numbering relate to and rely on the system protected by county surveyors. If no markers, boundaries, organized street and house numbering, or mapping were created or if they were not accurate, it would be difficult for emergency responders to arrive quickly, resulting in great losses to property and possibly lives.
The identification and protection of the Public Land Survey System is also important in countless other ways, such as rights a rancher might have to sources of water; fair assessment and payment of taxes; where you can vote in elections; what community you live in; your right to drive on roads; where utility lines can be safely placed on your property; how much your property is worth; and on and on. It’s easy to see how the work of county surveyors touches the lives of every citizen in many different ways.
Surveyors are just one of many important offices at your county. But without their accuracy in managing Utah’s Public Land Survey System in the county, it would be difficult for us to receive many important local services we depend.