Mosquito Abatement seeks tax hike; Binyon wants county to oversee district

Kopell scolds city for not helping

Members of the Moab Mosquito Abatement District Board discuss a proposed tax rate increase during a meeting Monday, Oct. 7. Photo by Doug McMurdo

The Moab Mosquito Abatement District Board will seek a tax increase after enduring a substantial struggle coping with one of Moab’s worst mosquito seasons in years, but just how much additional revenue the district will need is unknown – as is the question of whether the board will even exist in another year.

Board members did not seem prepared to discuss the future of the board at Monday’s meeting at the district office on Sand Flats Road. They were there in part to discuss setting the legal, proposed 2020 tax rate for the district and to assign a board member to present that rate to the Grand County and City of Moab councils.

Neither Manager Libby Nance nor any of the board members at the beginning of the meeting said they knew what the current or maximum allowed rates were. Nance subsequently went on the internet and determined the current rate is 0.00017 and the maximum rate is 0.0004, which would more than double the current budget of about $293,600.

The board agreed to seek the maximum rate with the caveat that it could be dialed back in the future. “There’s no way we’ll need that much money,” said Nance.

Grand County Council Member Terry Morse, the council’s liaison to the district, said that since budget information was unavailable, it would be difficult to propose a budget for 2020. He noted that the district owes Grand County for funding a pilot and aircraft to spray larvicide in the wetlands, a new fogging machine and the use of a truck and staff from the road department, as well as larvicide. The total debt owed to the county is between $80,000 and $90,000.

Morse made the motion to pursue the 0.0004 rate at a budget hearing that will be held at the district office Dec. 2, again with the caveat that the board could reduce the rate later. The board voted unanimously to approve it.

The board also voted to approve a business credit card for the district but was unable to address the remainder of the agenda. There was no list of bills for the board to approve, and Nance said that she’d been too busy to provide a manager’s report – developments that seemed to agitate one of the members.

Mike Binyon wanted to discuss the future of the district, and as he began to speak, Nance repeatedly made a throat-slashing gesture to Chair Tim Graham. Secretary Jeanette Kopell turned off a recording device before Binyon had his say and before the meeting formally adjourned.

“I think we’re an anachronism,” he said. “We’re a volunteer board with no ability to deal with a crisis.” He suggested the board “investigate” abandoning its status as a special service district and instead check to see if mosquito abatement could fall under the county umbrella.

“We need more control and supervision … and county control,” Binyon said. “I don’t think we can operate in the [21st] century like we did in the [20th].”

Morse said Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan is considering “what would be necessary to bring the special district back into the county. She’s very busy, but said she would look into it.”

“We have all winter to work on this,” said Binyon, who has served on the board for 14 years.

“The sooner the better,” said Morse.

Binyon said it was “unacceptable” to have no manager’s update or a presentation of bills to pay.

“I agree,” said Graham.

In the meantime, Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird told The Times-Independent on Tuesday that the district will have to hold a public meeting on the tax rate Monday, Oct. 14 before presenting it to the Grand County Council the next day.

Kopell spoke the next day, Oct. 8, to the Moab City Council, mentioning the tax rate increase in passing but focusing on her “disappointment” in the city and its staff for not offering “help” or being “communicative” with the district amidst its struggles this summer to contain nuisance and disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Baird also said the district will have to go through the Truth in Taxation process.

Carter Pape contributed reporting to this story.