Where the candidates (mostly) agree: tax tourists, build high-density housing

This story is one of two this week about the differences and agreements between candidates regarding housing and taxation. For more information, see the main story.

In response to three housing-related questions posed to Moab City Council candidates in the 2019 election, The Times-Independent heard many responses that echoed shared sentiments on important issues of taxation and zoning. Here were some of the key similarities.

State tax reform could force Moab into taxing property

After discussions in the state legislature and governor’s office regarding a restructuring of tax in the state, local officials started to worry that such a tax reform might hurt the city’s bottom line due in part to a lack of diversification in Moab’s economy.

Many of the candidates spoke about the value of diversifying Moab’s economy, not merely with respect to potential tax reforms. They also agreed that such a reform might force the city into levying a property tax, something it has not done since the late 1980s.

Incumbents Rani Derasary and Kalen Jones said that the tax reform proposals discussed during the most recent legislative session would have resulted in cutbacks to the city’s current levels of civic services, possibly necessitating the city implement a property tax or decrease its service levels.

“Some of the changes discussed over the winter would have resulted in dire cutbacks for the city given our reliance on sales tax in the absence of a property tax,” Derasary said.

Said Jones, “Depending on state legislative action, city sales tax revenue may decline significantly, forcing a re-evaluation of the current level of service the city provides versus tax burden on residents.”

Solona Sisco echoed those sentiments and added that a property tax would be one potential means of mitigating the impact to the city of a decrease in services. “Especially if the state decides to limit how much sales tax we can collect, we may need to seriously consider such a [property tax],” she said. “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.”

Sisco also pointed out that property tax levels could be lessened for primary residences and pointed to the county’s tax structure, which taxes only 55% of primary residences’ assessed values, as an example.

Candidates Ken Minor and Bryon Walston also expressed an aversion to levying a property tax. Walston said “we do not need a city property tax,” and Minor said he was “definitely not in favor of a city property tax.”

“I would work to reduce the budget before supporting a city property tax,” Minor said.

Higher density zoning means more affordability

With the exception of Derasary, each of the candidates who responded espoused higher density housing as a key part of making housing in Moab more affordable. More on Derasary’s perspective is available in the accompanying story on candidate disagreements.

Minor and Sisco said in their responses that they wanted to see more high-density residential zoning in Moab to encourage the development of more affordable units, which tend to be smaller. “I would like to see apartment complexes and other high-density housing options (duplexes/4-plexes/etc.) in every residential zone in Moab City,” Sisco said.

Minor said that although Moab needs a more diverse economy to help raise wages, the “best thing” for the city to do would be to “lower housing prices by enabling a greater supply of affordable housing.”

Minor said that “nobody seems to want higher density housing in their neighborhood,” but advocated for building higher density developments in town. “We need to zone more areas for apartment complexes, tiny homes, and other high-density housing options,” Minor said. He also wrote in his statement, “Simply forcing our lower income workforce to live farther and farther from work is not acceptable.”

Jones also expressed sentiments in favor of higher density housing. Jones said that an incremental approach was possible due to permitted densities in some residential zones near downtown being higher than what is currently built.

“The residential zones outside of the city core also have potential for incremental additional density under the existing city code,” Jones said.

Walston said that he wanted to “examine all zoning regulations and work to modify them” to enable the construction of more housing units, including tiny homes and multiple-dwelling units.

Tourists, not locals, should provide majority of tax revenue

Another commonly shared sentiment among the candidates was the idea that tourists rather than locals should provide the bulk of tax revenues.

Jones said that one advantage to funding the city’s activities primarily with sales taxes (as opposed to property taxes) was that “the tourist contribution is maximized…I will fight to retain the benefits of the current sales tax structure, and support staff in aggressively pursuing grants and favorable loan terms to minimize any additional tax burden on residents,” Jones said.

Sisco also said that tourists should pay for the bulk of the city’s services due to the sheer numbers; millions of tourists come through the city each year while only an estimated 5,000 residents live within the city permanently. “I agree that it would be unfair to put most or all of the burden of funding our local government on the residents,” Sisco said.

Walston said that Moab was a “destination resort community” and advocated for the tourism economy paying for the impacts it has on the city. “We need to examine the issues and let tourism pay for the problems or issues that the industry brings to town,” Walston said.

Note: This story does not include information about the responses from Tawny Knuteson-Boyd and Cassie Patterson, who responded to our questions after press time.