2020-09-01 Grand County Commission Meeting Report

Hwy 313/1919 Small Area Plan Workshop 2 PM

The county commission and planning commission held a workshop to discuss progress on the Hwy 313/191 Small Area Plan. The main topics discussed were the overall vision statement for the area (i.e. preserving the scenic gateway to our community and retaining the natural character of the area), and types of development that could potentially be in keeping with the overall vision for the area. There was also general agreement on moving forward with drafting scenic resource protection area standards that could be applied to the SAP and other areas around the county.

County Commission meeting 4 PM

Rally on the Rocks. During Commission member reports, Curtis Wells reported receiving an email from Rally on the Rocks sponsors expressing frustration with elements of the permit they were issued for the 2020 Rally on the Rocks event (which the permittee/sponsors cancelled immediately after receiving the permit due to the Covid19 pandemic). Chairman Mary McGann noted that in drafting the ROTR 2020 permit the special event permit committee worked very hard to mitigate the disruptive and negative impacts associated with this particular event, impacts that a multitude of county residents had complained about. She also noted that a special event permit is a privilege and not a right. Chrissy Sloan, county attorney, agreed w/ the chair that the stipulations included in the permit were crafted to try to address commission members requests and residents concerns, but that she would review the permit and the concerns raised by the permittee. Curtis said he’d request that this issue be on the next county commission meeting agenda for further discussion.

Mask requirements/Highway signs. Mary thanked the City engineer and others for working with UDOT and getting the signs up on both ends of town notifying travelers that Grand County has a face covering ordinance.

Budget and road easements. Chris Baird, county administrator, noted that the 2021 budgeting process would be getting underway soon. He also noted that he’ll give an update at the next commission meeting on what Grand County is doing in response to SITLA’s offer to the county to purchase easement for existing county roads that cross SITLA lands.

Sand Flat Recreation Area. Andrea Brand gave a detailed report of SFRA’s 50th anniversary and updated the commission on various statistics for SFRA, including that there were 190,000 visitors to SFRA in 2019, and according to BLM’s calculations, this generated more than $12 million for the community. She reported that folks can now purchase SFRA passes online or at the booth, which has recently been equipped with covid19 safety features. BLM is working on an environmental assessment for several new routes in SFRA and Andrea will present more details to the commission when BLM puts the EA out for public comment.

Bookcliffs Highway is back. Again. This road has been rejected by Grand County many times in the past, in various configurations. Initially, it was sold as an “Energy Corridor” and referred to as the ‘Hydrocarbon Highway’. Next it was billed as a “Utility Corridor”. After that, it was called a ‘Tourism Road’ that would be a great asset to Grand County and promote additional tourism. There may have been other titles, including ‘Transportation Corridor,’ but the most recent title is the “Eastern Utah Regional Connection (EURC) Road.”

  • Commissioner Jaylyn Hawks noted that the proposal for variously named versions of the Bookcliffs highway keep coming back in some form. The name keeps changing, but at the end of the day, it’s still a road that Grand County doesn’t want, being proposed by other counties, to be built entirely in Grand County. Jaylyn suggested that the commission contact the BLM to follow up on the BLM’s letter to the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) to see if the SCIC provided the info BLM has requested before the agency could begin it’s review of SCIC’s request for a right-of-way for the proposed road.
  • Mary commented that CIB money is being used to fund this road, and that the CIB is currently being sued for it’s misuse of funds to help corporations rather than communities impacted by mineral development. This is a road the county doesn’t need and that that there are other projects that would benefit our community that this money should be used for.
  • Curtis urged the commission to get more info from the SCIC, Uintah County, and BLM. He also suggested that Grand County should be at the table to discuss the road with the proponents.
  • Gabriel commented that he doesn’t see a need for the road and that there are existing roads that provide good access between Moab and Vernal, and it’s not appropriate to build a new, very expensive road through the Bookcliffs to shave a few minutes off of drive time.
  • Evan noted that there’s a real need to to make Hwy 6 safer, and using some CIB money for Hwy 6 safety improvements would clearly benefit Grand County residents.

Commission agreed to follow up with BLM to determine if SCIC has yet responded to the agency’s information request.

[Editor’s note: The 1920 Mineral Leasing Act established a framework for spending the royalties generated by drilling and mining on public lands, and requires that such money must be spent on projects that alleviate the impacts of extraction in the communities where they occur. The Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, or CIB, oversees the distribution of these dollars in Utah]

There is good info on estimated cost of construction and maintenance, impacts, and a history of this never-ending road saga in the commission packet starting at p. 217.

Folks who want to learn more about some of the Special Service Districts in Grand County, including the services they provide, and financial support requested from Grand County, read on! Detailed info starts at p. 68 of the commission packet .

Presentations by five special service districts (SSD) and school district on ongoing financial needs and obligations for future consideration by commission for funding allocations.

Canyonlands Health Care SSD. Joette Langianese noted that the CHC SSD and the EMS SSD work very closely together and support each other, but that they’re competing for the same pot of funding from the County and that both SSDs need critical funding from the county. The two SSDs have worked together to try to figure out an equitable solution to the rural health care sales tax allocation which is split between the Care SSD and EMS SSD, but that they haven’t been able to come to an agreement.

Most of CHC SSD’s funding is used to subsidize the Care Center, a 36 bed long term care facility. CHC SSD has deferred its debt obligations to CIB until 2022. CHC SSD is requesting that the rural health care sales tax be split 60%/40% between CHC and EMS for 2021 – as it was for 2020.

Emergency Medical Services SSD. Liz Tubbs agreed w/ Joette that EMS and CHC need each other. 2019 EMS had more calls than any previous year and at least half of EMS calls are from local residents. EMS’s primary sources of funding is from patient billings and the rural health care sales tax. EMS patient billing revenue is limited by two main factors; the State of Utah sets maximum billing rates, and EMS receives approximately $0.29 of every dollar billed from Medicare and Medicaid patients. Those two populations make up 55% of EMS patients, meaning that 55% of EMS’s bills are discounted by 71%. In 2019, Grand County EMS recovered approximately 52% of what was billed to patients. This is a normal rate on par with other ambulance services in the state. In addition, EMS is only allowed to bill a patient that is transported to the hospital – if treated on site and not transported, EMS cannot bill for the call.

If the Commission retains the 40/60% split between EMS SSD and CHC SSD for 2021, EMS will be in the hole.  EMS SSD would support CHC SSD getting more sales tax, if the County can find another source of funding for EMS SSD (i.e. TRT, PILT, Mineral Lease, etc).

Grand County School District. Taryn Kay reminded the commission that PILT payments from the federal government to rural counties are to offset the loss in property taxes due to the presence of non-taxable federal lands w/in the county. And that property taxes fund schools. The School District is requesting the same amount of PILT funding in 2021 as it received in 2020. The School District needs this funding for its pre-school. Helping kids at the pre-school level will lead to less expenditures later. 

Recreation Special Service District. Jim Lewis told the commission that the Recreation SSD is requesting the same amount, $57,000, for 2021 as it did for 2020. This is mostly to pay for operation and maintenance at the Old Spanish Trail Arena. The SSD realizes that both mineral lease funding and PILT funding are down. However, most events usually held at the OSTA have been cancelled due to covid19 this year, so OSTA is not generating any income from events. The Rec. SSD will have a deficit this year, but is hoping next year to be back to normal. The Rec SSD provides a lot of beneficial services to county citizens, including the ball fields at OSTA. But OSTA is a big place and expensive to operate.

Solid Wast Manage #1 Special Service District. Evan Tyrell reported a myriad of improvements and cost-saving measures the district has taken over the past year, some of which have greatly increased expected lifetime of Klondike landfill and Moab landfill even as volume has increased. He noted that tourist season (which is expanding into more months) are the biggest months at the landfills. Similarly, the SSD is taking steps to make the Community Recycle Center profitable with the goal of having infrastructure and capacity to be able to accept, process, and manage all recyclables generated in Grand County. The SSD is requesting $600,000 from GC for 2021 to continue provide benefits to the county by managing all solid waste generated by local residents and businesses, and tourists to the county.

Transportation Special Service District. The SSD was set up to obtain funds that were not available to the road department. The SSD is currently saving money to purchase expensive storm drainage systems – which the road department needs. The SSD is also purchasing asphalt test strips for road repair. The SSD is requesting funding from Grand County (amount unspecified) to finish Phase II Jackson Street Detention Project and other miscellaneous storm drain and road repair projects throughout the county.