Solona Sisco responds to three housing questions

The Times-Independent asked each of the ten remaining candidates for Moab City Council three questions regarding housing and taxation. Seven of the candidates responded, two of them after press time. Here is a link to the full story.

Solona Sisco

How do you plan to close the gap between rents and incomes in Moab? Is the right approach to raise incomes, lower rents, or both? How would you do either of those things?

Both. In part due to the housing crisis, Moab has a de facto minimum wage significantly higher than the federal minimum wage, but we can do better. The locally owned businesses tend to pay fair wages to the extent that they can afford, but not every business in town is locally owned. Pizza Hut, Subway, Hilton, and Days Inn might have local franchisee “owners” who live here, but there are still a lot of profits being sent away to the executives and shareholders of those big corporations. I would like to see those big corporations paying a minimum of $15 per hour to all their employees. I would be interested in partnering with the media to reveal how much those companies are paying, and encourage them to raise the wages.

For those willing and able to forgo car ownership, I would like to see housing without parking be made available as a cheaper option.

A significant reason the city has unaffordable rents is low-density housing. Much of the city is zoned for single-family houses, which are unaffordable for most residents. The zones for apartment complexes and other high-density housing options are severely limited. Do you view this as a problem? How would you address it?

I would like to see apartment complexes and other high-density housing options (duplexes/4-plexes/etc.) in every residential zone in Moab City. The changing neighborhood characteristics predicted by NIMBYs would be less severe for any homeowner already living in one of the affected zones if the increased density is spread out across all the residential zones. When preparing to expand the PAD, I would like to negotiate with developers for higher quality developments. I think it’s great that I was able to be part of a team building a two story strawbale dormitory and I think it’s also great that Kalen Jones designed a two story strawbale duplex that he rents out long term, but I would like to see our community scale up, with strawbale apartment buildings and 4-plexes across the city.

The City of Moab does not directly benefit from increasing property values because it does not levy a property tax, making it largely dependent on tourism for tax revenue. Should the city levy a property tax? Explain.

I am not strictly opposed to levying a property tax. Especially if the state decides to limit how much sales tax we can collect, we may need to seriously consider such a tax. A property tax could raise the cost of living for both renters and homeowners, but it would also bring in revenue from owners of hotels and other commercial properties.

According to Karen Guzman-Newton, “Our sales tax represents 81.5% of our general fund revenue, and 79% of those taxes are collected from visitors.” I agree that it would be unfair to put most or all of the burden of funding our local government on the residents, when there are hardly more than 5,000 of us, compared to two to three million visitors per year.

At least how the county collects property tax revenue, home owners are not taxed on the full market value of their homes, but only 55% of the assessed market value. This is in contrast to hotels being taxed on 100% of their assessed market values. For example, 2018 data shows the Hilton next to Moonflower paying $187,383 on an assessed property value of $17,791,750. Mayor Niehaus on the other hand, with her husband paid $900 on an assessed value of $155,286.