Regional heads discuss grant wishes
Wells: HB 224 debate ‘just politics and noise’

The opioid crisis, state funding for local projects, and the proposed change in Grand County government were primary topics at the Thursday, May 31 regular meeting of the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments held in Moab.

Community Development Block Grants are used to fund projects ranging from culinary water and sewer projects to road improvements and recreation projects.

On June 28 and 29, the state policy board will meet to decide the criteria used to determine how federal money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is distributed to different regions around Utah.

The debate will come down to how certain criteria are weighed relative to others. The percentage of the state’s low- to moderate-income (LMI) population versus the average poverty rate will likely be the main point of contention.

The southeast Utah region (comprised of Carbon, Emery, Grand, and San Juan counties) has one of the lowest percentages of the state’s LMI population, but has the highest average poverty rate. According to Jade Powell, the southeast region’s CDBG representative, the different options could result in “a $30,000 sway” in how much money the southeast region receives.

SEUALG board members, of which there were six present along with various advisors, felt their group could be doing more to address the opioid crisis, but they were unsure of just how. Most efforts to alleviate the crisis have focused on counseling, rehabilitation and providing emergency vehicles with the equipment necessary to treat overdoses.

However, Geri Gamber, SEUALG’s executive director, claimed they lack “the expertise and qualified staff” to meet those needs and do not want their efforts to be redundant. Instead, they are looking to assist in the area of “public and mental health” by helping coordinate between “counties and agencies” to bridge gaps in services.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus suggested focusing on creating “transitional housing” and “outreach to employers” to help break the cycle of opioid abuse and arrest. But Gamber said SEUALG has “$68,500 of unified funding” from the state that they “literally could not spend,” so the organization is open to suggestions as to how it can be more involved in the matter.

The final topic on the agenda centered on the HB 224 which is requiring the Grand County form of government to be changed. Discussion focused on public pushback to the proposed change. Gamber wrote a letter of support for the change from the executive director’s perspective on behalf of SEUALG. Curtis Wells, Grand County Council member and a major proponent of the bill, explained the backlash is due largely to lack of understanding. “Some citizens… have written in to the county council requesting that I be removed from the AOG, because they see it as the hallway to influence… There’s a misunderstanding of how legislature works and what the AOG’s involvement in that is,” he said. “In my opinion, we [Grand County] often behave as if we’re in a bubble…because of our differences in politics.”

Wells said calls to remove him from the AOG are an example of “political retribution and vindictiveness that further puts Grand County in a hole that I feel like we’re climbing out of in a lot of aspects.” Wells recommended no further communication from SEUALG in support of the governmental change because at this point “it’s just politics and noise.”

ByBy Nathaniel Smith

The Times-Independent