The devastating realities of COVID-era economics are becoming more and more grave with every passing day. The global hit is likely to be unmatched by anything in recorded history. We know that communities who depend on non-essential businesses such as tourism will feel some of the biggest impacts.
Many Moab residents and business owners are wondering how or if they can continue to make a living here. The ones whose jobs and shops have been shuttered have had to act at once to keep the bears away from the doors. That means they have tapped into savings, borrowed for credit, let workers go, applied for unemployment, and perhaps survived for a while on stimulus checks. Some have already decided to close for good.
There is a hefty sector of the Moab community that disdains tourism. Perhaps they are retired, have filled their savings accounts with money made elsewhere in former lives. Maybe they never had to work a day in their lives and live on trust funds handed down from their elders. Many work for the government, whether it is local, state or federal branches, relying on tax-generated income paid by others.
Tourism has been a dirty word in some circles here in Moab for quite a long time. But it has been the goose that laid the golden egg in our town. Charges that Moab should have done more to diversify its economy are sucker punches at a time like this. Would people prefer that a meatpacking plant be located here? How about a uranium mill? Or a wind farm with huge turbines to obstruct our views?
It’s possible, thanks to the growth of better internet and Wi-Fi services, that people will be able to live here and work from home for corporations that are based elsewhere, say in New York or Manila. Perhaps this is the future for our well educated who can hunker down in their homes, with a keyboard and computer screen at their fingertips. But what about the service industry, which is an important sector of any community?
Tourism has and will continue to play the most essential role to support Moab’s economic sustainability, even at these least essential of times. But for now, most publicity to encourage people to plan to visit here when this pandemic is over is practically non-existent.
My admiration for Travel Council Director Elaine Gizler went up tenfold when she announced a few weeks ago that her staff had immediately furloughed a number of employees and would be operating with just two people for now. Looking at the suddenly severe lack of transient room tax money that would not be coming in to Moab hotels and inns, she saw no other way to even attempt to balance her budget.
City and county staffs have been slower to lay people off. Even though many staffers have not been very busy inside their offices that are closed to the public, they are still getting paychecks. The taxpayers will have to fund their salaries.
Same for the National Park Service. Are rangers being called to paint buildings or improve trails and parking lots? What are they doing except keeping the public out? Will their time off have been productive?
The state parks are the only public lands locales that have operated with a bit of flexibility when it has come to serving the communities in which they operate. After the initial few weeks of coronavirus shock and shutdown occurred, we in Grand and San Juan counties could still travel out to Dead Horse Point or to Newspaper Rock to enjoy some of our nearby natural wonders.
The county announced recently that it might have to reduce its general fund by 30% this year. I would hope so. This is in the face of most private businesses and jobholders looking at much larger hits to their budgets, perhaps well over 50%. That would mean steeper layoffs at city hall and in the county courthouse. If those in the private sector have to face these losses, the local various tax burdens should be reduced at the same rate. That would mean steep layoffs at city hall and in the county courthouse — of the same order that our private businesses have been facing. If those in the private sector have to face these losses, their various tax burdens should be reduced accordingly.