RD’s Moab City Council Meeting Preview 2021-08-10

[Editor’s note: Both Rani Derasary and Mike Duncan have graciously agreed to let MADAR reuse their regular email updates to constituents. Despite the overlap, we are running both versions of the MCC previews. Readers can choose to read both, either or neither of the previews.]

Our next City Council meeting is this coming Tuesday, August 10. This will be the Council’s first opportunity since the recent August 4 Truth in Taxation Public Hearing to potentially vote on what rate to set the City’s property tax line at (eg: 0%, 100%, or something in between 0 and 100%). My understanding is that a vote is required on this by August 31, 2021; so to me that means the vote needs to occur at our regularly scheduled Council meeting August 10, or the one August 24, unless some other special meeting is set on another date in August. Please read below for more on all that, plus what else is on our August 10 agenda, and other potential items of interest around town at this time.

City Council meeting Tuesday, August 10 – 6:00pm closed session + main meeting at 7:00pm (City Council Chambers, City Hall, 217 E Center Street). You are welcome to attend this meeting in person at City Hall. Please note that per the agenda currently posted: social distancing is required; masks are encouraged but not required for those who are vaccinated; and masks are required for those who are unvaccinated.That said, FYI, I have asked for clarification, now that Grand County is back in the High Transmission level for COVID-19, whether all people coming to the August 10 meeting, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks, as was the case at the August 4 City public hearings; when I get a response, I’ll get back to you and let you know. Should you prefer to follow the August 10 meeting online, please tune in live (or after the fact) on the City’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/MoabCityGovernment.

You can find the 75-page packet for the August 10 meeting here: https://moabcity.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_08102021-1061?packet=true. If you prefer the 3-page agenda only, with links to packet parts, that is here: https://moabcity.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_08102021-1061.

Here is a breakdown of what’s on the agenda:

6:00pm Executive (closed) session. As is the case with these sessions, the public cannot attend, but legally I can tell you the general topic, which is that: we’ll be having a strategy session to discuss reasonably imminent and/or pending litigation.

7:00pm Main meeting

Citizens to be Heard (CTBH). You are welcome to come to City Hall at 7:00pm August 10 to speak in the Council Chambers in person. If you’d prefer to submit written comments for CTBH, please fill out the form found here prior to 7:00pm on August 10: https://bit.ly/citizens beheard. Please limit written comments to 400 words.

Presentation: Airport Economic Feasibility Study.  There are no pages in our packet on this item, but the presentation will be made by Canyonlands Regional Airport (formerly Canyonlands Field) Director, Andy Solsvig. Most presentations made at our Council meetings are 10-15 minutes long FYI.

Proposed Resolution 22-2021: a resolution adopting the Fiscal Year 2021-22 Budget and Proposed Property Tax Increase for the City of Moab. As you may know, the City held an Open House on the potential of raising the City property tax above its current 0% to as high as possibly 100% on July 14, and a related Truth in Taxation public hearing on the proposed tax and 2021-2022 budget on August 4. (Should you like to watch the August 4 meeting, a recording of that is on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lq3RVv7_MyM.

First, I’d like to say thanks to all of you who attended and spoke, and to also thank those of you who’ve been emailing and calling me. I haven’t managed to respond to every one yet, but please know I am reading all correspondence and working on responding.  

Now to August 10. On Tuesday, Resolution 22-2021, a resolution adopting the Fiscal Year 2021-22 Budget and proposed property tax increase for the City of Moab, is on our agenda as a briefing and possible action (ie, vote). The agenda summary on August 10 packet page 8 explains that the Council is being presented with 5 budget scenarios to choose from, depending on how much property tax each would generate; scenario 1 generates $0 in property tax; scenario 2 generates $1 million; scenario 3 generates $1.5 million; scenario 4 generates $2 million; and scenario 5 generates $3.3 million. Some of you have asked me if the Council could entertain other scenarios that generate other amounts between $0 and $3.3 million, and yes, it is my understanding we could ask for such calculations in addition to what’s in the packet. Packet page 9 is Resolution 22-2021 itself, which shows how scenarios 1-5 would impact revenues in the City’s various funds. As you may recall, the City’s proposal is that property tax be used for a combination of three things: increasing police department staffing; infrastructure projects identified as critical sewer, water and road projects; and to raise City reserve funds to a level considered fiscally responsible to be ready to address emergencies.

That said, the public has since made many suggestions to Council, from leaving the City’s property tax at 0%/$0 in 2021-2022, to perhaps considering a small tax this year – or down the line – to help fund various projects. I can tell you the overwhelming majority of correspondence I’ve received this far is urging us to keep the City’s property tax at 0%/$0 for this coming year (2021-2022). Please note that August 10 will be the CIty Council’s first opportunity since we held the August 4 Truth in Taxation public hearings to discuss all of the public’s suggestions and requests, to answer raised questions, and clarify some misinformation we could not on August 4. (FYI Council are discouraged from responding to any resident questions or accusations in public hearings by the very structure of public hearings – unlike say a town hall, where back and forth discourse is permitted.) 

As for August 10’s packet page 9, I think due to the City’s proposal that any raised property tax go to infrastructure (roads, sewer, water projects), law enforcement and reserve funds, the only funds that I see increasing as you put a property tax in place are the General Fund and Capital Projects Fund. You can go to the actual budget breakdown, which shows differences in scenarios 1-5 on pages 10-39 to examine this more carefully. I know a few budget line items were confusing to me, so I’ll be asking about those at our meeting. Finally, page 40 appears to be a form the City needs to fill out for the State to show what tax rate we adopt (be that 0, or something higher). 

Responses to a few property tax FAQs:
That’s it for what’s in our August 10 packet specifically about property tax and our budget, but several of you have been asking me similar questions about property tax, so I thought I’d respond to some of those here lest the clarification be helpful. (This would be way too long if I responded to all questions here, but I’ll work on that over time :)! Please note that I offer these responses not to advocate for any side of this issue (ie, 0% property tax vs something higher), but to make sure none of you are wasting time and energy worrying about info you can’t seem to find or confirm. As I’ve been saying, I’m still learning about property tax, so I have been trying to confirm the info I share is correct, and please know that I do take full responsibility should I make any errors here:

  • Question 1: In my “2021 Notice of Property Valuation and Tax Changes” (reminder from Rani: I explained this notice in my July 27 update) from the Grand County Clerk/Auditor, how can I tell if the listed “2021 Tax Amounts” under the “If proposed budget change approved” column, and the “Change in 2021 with increase” column are the 100% amount of tax that you’d charge a second-home owner, or if they’re just the 55% I should pay if my property is a primary residence?
  • Answer: If you flip your “2021 Notice of Property Valuation and Tax Changes” over to the back side, under “Primary Residential Exemption” the County explains: “…On the front of this notice, if the property type says “Res.” and the taxable is less than the market value, then you are receiving the exemption….” So, flip your notice back over to the front side, and look at the second section, titled “Market and Taxable Valuations”. Under “Property Type,” you’ll have one or more lines listed. You may, for example, see “Primary Res. Bldg” listed, or “Residential Secondary” listed; follow that line over to the right and see what the “2021 Market Value” is, versus the “2021 Taxable Value.” If the 2021 Market Value is a larger number than the 2021 Taxable Value number, you’ve gotten the 45% discount for primary residence owners, and are being asked to pay the 55%. If, on the other hand, the Market Value is exactly the same as the Taxable Value, your property has not qualified for the discount. The back side of your notice explains “When a property (up to 1 acre) is used as someone’s only primary residence, it may receive a 45% reduction in value, resulting in lower taxes. The property does not have to be occupied by the owner; renters also qualify.” Note that appeals can be made about such exemptions with the County Assessor until September 15, 2021.
  • Question 2: I understand that some primary residences currently qualify for a 45% reduction in property tax. Can’t Grand County (and the City, if it enacted a property tax over 0%) simply charge second home owners, and overnight accommodations like hotels, an even higher percent of property tax than the 100% we charge now?  A
  • Answer: These percentages are set by the State of Utah; so no, neither a county or city would have this power. 
  • Question 3: Why can’t you stop assessing my property? Every time it gets assessed, I have to pay more!
  • Answer: As I’ve noted, I’m still learning about this as the City has not charged a property tax in so long. As you may understand, it’s the Grand County Assessor who assesses your property once every 5 years. They do this because they are required by the State of Utah to assess your property every 5 years. (There is a slight exception to this, as the State does assess some properties itself, mostly properties used for industrial purposes, every year.) Some of you have commented that the value the Grand County Assessor placed on your property when it was last assessed did not seem to reflect your property’s market value your house would garner if you sold it today. The County explained this in the letter they sent out with your 2021 Notice of Property Valuation and Tax Changes, noting value “…increases are due to our requirement to be within a certain range of current market value.” The fact that the County doesn’t assess you at full the market value you’d get if you sold your property actually benefits you, because if your property were assessed at that full market value, you’d pay more property tax. So what would happen if Grand County failed to assess your property every 5 years, or failed to assess it close enough to that range around market value? If I understand correctly, the State promises that in this case, it will come here and assess all properties at 100% market value.
  • Question 4: Salaries and benefits seem to be a large part of the City’s budget. Where can I look up the specific income information for an individual employee or elected official?
  • Answer: To my knowledge, the best place to do this for elected officials as well as municipal employees in Utah, is a State of Utah site called Transparent Utah. You can access it here: https://transparent.utah.gov/. They’ve changed the layout a bit, so the easiest thing to do at this point seems to be to search a specific person’s name and then scroll down for a breakdown of wages and benefits over the years. It seems to me you used to be able to pull up, say, a whole department at once, but I need to play with the revamped site to figure that out.

(August 10 agenda items continued)

Continued discussion on Employee Housing Short Term Work Plan. As a reminder, we held a City Council workshop on this topic July 27. At the time, we discussed that across the board employees in Moab are having trouble finding housing, and we reviewed a list of high-level policies and programs compiled by staff that may or may not help our community’s workforce. It was explained that no item was a silver bullet solution, and the recommendation was rather to consider using as many tools as we thought viable. Staff and Council discussed the list July 27 (to listen to that discussion go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htK0Up4JmRA), staff took notes on Council input, and they are now coming to Council August 10 with a draft short-term work plan prioritizing options to confirm if they captured Council’s comments, and whether we agree with item prioritization. You can review the proposed work plan on packet pages 50-55 (FYI I’ve requested these table be reposted so you can read across eg Row 1 on a single page, but in the meantime if it helps you, I had to print it, and cut and paste the pages together to get the rows to line up in a way I could comprehend them); see a matrix with priorities on pages 42-49 (again, I recommend cutting and pasting the pages here to make sense of them); plus there’s a brief agenda summary on page 42; and a copy of the agenda summary we received July 27 on pages 56-58.

Proposed Resolution #27-2021 – a resolution approving the Lot Line Adjustment of property located at 54 North 300 East, and 68 North 300 East, Moab UT 84532. This is on our agenda as a briefing and possible action. Pages 59-66 of the packet explain that the owner of the first property (54N 300E) would like to adjust their lot line adjacent to the second property (68N 300E) which has different owners. Both parcels are in the R3 (Multi-Household Residential) Zone. With the requested adjustment, the length of the 54N 300E parcel will be shortened; the owner of that will allocate the remainder of the parcel to the owners of 68N 300E. They are apparently doing this because this central part of the block has circulated in ownership between neighbors for years so that all the surrounding neighbors can enjoy it as open land. (See map on page 64 as it makes this more clear.) Please note that a public hearing is not required for this resolution per Utah State Code and Moab Municipal Code.

Possible approval of a Federal Aid Agreement for Local Agency Project with UDOT for design and construction of a “roundabout” at the intersection of 400 North and 100 West. The agenda summary on page 67 explain some of the history, safety and intersection configuration concerns, and drainage issues driving interest in placing a traffic roundabout here. The City was awarded $1,078,671 from the UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) Joint Highway Committee STP (Surface Transportation Program, I think) Small-Urban Funds Program for this project, and needs to come up with a cost share of $78,329. Pages 68-75 are the Federal Aid Agreement which Council is being asked to approve, along with approving the $78,329 commitment for the City’s cost share. This is another item on our August 10 agenda as a briefing and possible action.

That’s it for our August 10 City Council meeting, except that aside from what’s listed above, the meeting will contain standard items such as: reports from the Council, Mayor and City Manager; approval of minutes (this time for our July 27 meeting – covered on pages 4-7 of our packet); and payment of the bills. 

Miscellaneous items of possible interest

  • Reminder: Free Swim & BBQ Day at MRAC is this Wednesday, August 11, 1:30-4:30pm. As a reminder, the Moab Police Department and MRAC (Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center) are sponsoring a free afternoon of swimming and hot dogs on Wednesday, August 11, from 1:30pm to 4:30pm (374 N Park Avenue). You’re invited to come meet our local officers. I’ll attach the related flyer, and for more information, please call: 435-259-8938.
  • Grand County School District Truth in Taxation Public Hearing. Just a reminder that they’re holding this meeting about the proposed increase in their “Schools – General ” property tax line on August 11, 6:00pm at the School District Office Board Room (264 South 400 East). Should you be interested, there’s a good explanation of what they are asking for in this week’s (August 5) issue of the Times-Independent (on page A3).
  • Come talk to your US Congressional Representative John Curtis. August 11 is apparently a busy day in Moab! Representative Curtis is holding a town hall in Moab at Star Hall on August 11 from 5:30-6:30pm. Come ask questions and hear him discuss federal issues pertinent to Grand County residents.
  • Mosquitoes. I shared in my last update comments from Moab Mosquito Abatement District (MMAD) Manager Rehbein about whether they had any concerns about mosquitoes given the recent moisture we’d been getting. FYI she’d promised to update me, and sent this additional info August 3: “I just wanted to follow up with you and update you on mosquitoes so far this week in regards to the flooding. The heavy rain late last week seemed to have flushed out whatever mosquito larvae and pupae that may have been around before. We did see quite a few mosquito larvae in certain areas of the Matheson Wetland the past couple of days, but the MMAD crew has been working hard treating those areas and some standing water around town. With the weather drying and heating up again now, standing water will become more concentrated and that will make it easier on us to treat as well. As of right now, I think we are looking ok.”
  • Latest update from UDOT on Highway 191 widening project. Thanks to City Communications and Engagement Manager Lisa Church for sharing this update August 6:
    • HIGHWAY U.S. 191 (MAIN STREET) OPEN. All construction-related traffic controls for this project have been removed from the highway and all lanes are now available in all directions. The highway will remain open to all traffic again until sometime this Fall. We appreciate your patience throughout this project, and hope you enjoy the improved roadway!
    • Storm Drain System Due to required constraints in place during construction, the Storm Drain System is not permitted to run at full capacity. These restrictions will be removed to allow the system to run at capacity once construction is complete.
    • Wetland Section Crews will be continuing their work in the wetland section.
    • Here’s a link to the complete update: https://madmimi.com/p/3904b21?pact=2593-164256965-10500394083-79eb9aca0d3f581665d828160e1dd441c59f0a77
  • Market on Center. Just a reminder that there are 3 more Market on Center local artisan and farmers market nights scheduled for 2021. A flyer is attached, and the remaining dates are August 19, September 2 and September 16 (5-8pm/dusk, 217 E Center Street).

Okay! Sorry that was so very long-winded! I’ll leave it at that, but encourage you to continue to ask questions about property tax and other issues of concern.

Have a safe week, 

Rani Derasary, Moab City Councilmember