County trims proposed tax hike

$300K cut from budget

Grand County Council Member Jaylyn Hawks wants to determine how many employee positions would have to be cut in order to make up for a budget that is more than $1 million in the red. Photo by Doug McMurdo

It wasn’t fat that was trimmed from the tentative $16 million Grand County budget during a Nov. 6 council workshop, it was more like cutting the least important funding requests out of a list of nothing but important funding requests.

In the end, however, five of seven members of the Grand County Council sliced the pie enough to slightly decrease the dollar figure on a proposed $1.8 million property tax increase. The total previous proposal was for a $2.1 million increase.

To frame it in the same manner as a previous Notice of Proposed Tax Increase published in The Times-Independent in October, the bill for the owner of a $242,000 home would increase from $311.85 to $455.56, an additional $143.71 per year. That’s a reduction from the previous figure of $168.48.

The owner of a business with the same value would see their bill rise from $567.01 to $828.31, an increase of about $261, roughly $45 less than the previous estimate. The tax increases include Grand County, the Grand County Library, and the standalone Moab Mosquito Abatement Special Service District. Hypothetically, a person whose home or business was situated in every taxing district in the county – a geographical impossibility – would see their property taxes increase by 8.4 percent.

A public hearing to discuss the proposed property tax increase – the first in Grand County in a dozen years – is set for 6 p.m. Dec. 3 inside council chambers at the Grand County Courthouse.

The Grand County tourism-dependent economy is still chugging along, but not at the speeds it reached in recent years, according to Grand County Clerk-Auditor and Budget Officer Chris Baird. The assessed valuation for Grand County is about $1.9 billion, leading Chair Evan Clapper to suggest if property assessments are current.

There was speculation that at least some properties are dramatically under-valued and that countywide reassessments could increase property tax revenue without raising taxes. Either way, property owners would likely pay more in taxes, significantly so in some cases.

Due to how property tax formulas work, however, the net gain to the county would be zero since the rate would go down as the revenue increased, keeping the payment the same, said Baird.

The “grim reality” with regard to the county payroll, he said, is that eliminating approved but unfilled jobs and then existing positions is the only recourse without a tax increase. Baird also said he left no wiggle room in his projections, saying he needed to be as exact as possible since the county would seek the tax increase.

Council Member Jaylyn Hawks might request another workshop to look at just how many positions would have to be cut. Baird the day after the Nov. 6 workshop said he would be interested in seeing what that would look like, as well.

It would be a bitter pill to swallow because the only reason the county is more than $1 million in the red is due to salary and wage increases that were approved without an identified revenue stream to pay for them in 2018. It is well documented the county was losing employees at an alarming rate due to its inability to offer competitive wage and benefit packages.

“Nobody wants taxes but everyone wants more services,” said Council Member Terry Morse at his last meeting before he resigned after moving out of District 1.

For Baird, an obvious source of additional revenue could be found through transient room tax reforms. The Moab Area Travel Council is obligated to spend a large percentage of TRT funding on promoting the area. Its budget has grown from $1.3 million to more than $3 million.

“They helped grow this economy to what it is, but … their budget far exceeds what is needed,” said Baird.

The council held its regular meeting following the workshop and voted 5-2 to approve the tentative budget. Members Curtis Wells and Rory Paxman voted nay. Neither man attended the workshop. Following the Dec. 3 public hearing, the council will likely approve the budget and tax increase on Dec. 17. They must submit their budget by Dec. 31 at the latest.