Sloan objects to TRT audit findings; argues airport improvements meet tourism tax spending rules

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan advised state auditors she would continue to recommend the county council spend Transient Room Tax revenue on airport improvements when they are made in furtherance of tourism. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan in a sharply worded letter to State of Utah Auditor General Kade Minchey disagreed with a report claiming Grand County inappropriately spent Transient Room Tax funds a couple of years ago.

Sloan told Minchey she believed the report, which was based on audits of several Utah counties and how TRT was spent, was “interesting and important,” and that she appreciated its inclusion of requests from most of those counties for more flexibility in how TRT funds can be spent.

Grand County a couple of years ago used TRT to fund runway and terminal improvements at Canyonlands Field Airport – a use of funds auditors viewed as questionable.

Sloan, however, criticized that viewpoint, saying the county’s spending tourism taxes on airport improvements was “legal and justifiable,” regardless of whether airport uses are implicitly permitted.

While she expressed gratitude for the report, Sloan wrote, “However, Report #1019-03 also includes invalid legal conclusions regarding Grand County’s prior use of tourism funding for airport runway and terminal expansions, which led the auditing team to find that Grand County has inappropriately used TRT revenues to fund improvements at the Grand County Airport. This legal conclusion is incorrect, unsupported by substantive legal discussion or legal opinion, and harmful to Grand County.”

Sloan at a Grand County Council meeting in May advised members she would send the letter after assuring them they did not inappropriately spend the money since, clearly, airports bring in tourists. Her opinion echoes two of her most recent predecessors.

Citing Utah statutes, Sloan said the law allows counties to use TRT funds to establish and promote “recreation, tourism, film production and conventions,” and to make “payments for construction or infrastructure improvements.”

Sloan said the airport was “essential to promoting tourism, as the bulk of reservations of each flight are booked by tourists, not locals, visiting Moab on a short-term basis.”

She said the airport also fits the definition of a sports or recreation facility in that several recreational companies do business at the airport, including skydiving, hot air ballooning and scenic flight tours.

“For these reasons, I defend the county’s prior use of TRT revenues for airport runway and terminal expansion and I will continue to encourage the county to use TRT revenue for similar airport uses in the future so long as the airport promotes recreation and tourism,” she wrote.