An open letter to the Grand County Council


In regards to the proposed general fund tax increase proposed by the council, I have the following two concerns:

devil's garden campground
Devil’s Garden Campground at Arches National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Archives/Wikimedia Commons

First and foremost lies in the tax compliance issues the federal government has in its recreational business interests in Grand County. As you are all aware, well over 90 percent of Grand County falls under their jurisdiction. The federal government is directly involved in the collection of fees for users of public lands, whether it is for admission fees into national parks, permits for land/river use, as well as fees for camping. All of these fees are subject to local taxes, including sales plus transient room taxes on camping.

The Moab Area Travel Council obtained this information regarding tax collection on users from the Utah State Tax Commission while following up on concerns raised by the tax advisory board in 2014. This was immediately brought to the attention of the council in the hopes that this would begin the process to change this flaw necessitating a change in federal law to correct this, as well as appropriate reconciliation with affected counties, not just Grand County, for this lack of collection.

No doubt our federal land agencies operating in Grand County have full records of all fees collected for the decades this has been occurring, and this dollar amount can be collated and the appropriate late fees, penalties and interest can be added on for a one-time payment in lieu of tax (PILT) for Grand County for the past, and then a new mechanism in play for collection for the future. Perhaps the model utilized by Utah State Parks who do collect recreational user taxes would pave the way forward.

The second major issue I have is in the costs burdened on Grand County for our sheriff’s work on public lands. This is specifically a question of who should be paying the county for the sheriff’s time responding to emergency calls originating from public lands? Since it is my understanding that the sheriff must report when they enter and leave public lands to local dispatch there must be record of the time county sheriffs spends on public lands.

In addition to this are other associated costs including wear and tear on vehicles used to access the emergency situation. These costs are something the county should seek federal reimbursement for instead of allowing the burden of this cost to fall on the local community.

Both of these issues have been brought to the council’s attention before from the county advisory board dedicated to lessening the burden on the local taxpayer. I also realize that neither of the concerns highlighted above are overnight fixes but are worthy changes to pursue in the way we work with our federal land partners.

If either or both of these issues had been addressed sooner, the county would not have to be considering an extremely unpopular proposed tax increase.

– Howard Trenholme