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Council talks budget, bicycles and zoning: Notes from the May 25 meeting of the Moab City Council

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At their regular, in-person meeting on Tuesday, the Moab City Council heard presentations, discussed and voted on several issues regarding the budget, electric bicycles, zoning and this year’s local elections.

Acting City Manager Carly Castle stepped in for Joel Linares, who is on administrative leave. She reported that Moab may be eligible for a wealth of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and other local assistance programs. Moab expects to receive $600,000 of unrestricted funds from the former, while the latter funding would be restricted to affordable housing, public revenue loss, wastewater infrastructure and other infrastructure projects. She also predicted more relaxed mask and social distancing standards as soon as Moab gets out of the high transmission COVID-19 phase, likely in the beginning of June. Masks are currently encouraged for vaccinated individuals, but not required.

Budget

Finance Director Ben Billingsley provided an update on the city budget and revenue findings.

“We are under budget as far as revenues are concerned because CARES money did make up for that difference,” he said.

Billingsley will introduce an amended final budget for the 2022 fiscal year on July 11, which could potentially include a property tax. Billingsley first introduced the potential for a property tax at the city council’s regular meeting on May 11, though the city has not levied a property tax since 1992. The property tax would fund infrastructure projects and law enforcement.

If the city council decides to pursue a property tax for Moab, there will be a Truth-in-Taxation hearing on July 20 for public input. The city would then adopt the final budget, including budgeted property tax revenue if the council decides to levy one, on August 10.

Billingsley also reported that Moab has seen “unprecedented revenue numbers” from March, April and May from the city’s sales tax, which tourists bear the brunt of. “There have been higher volumes of tourism traffic this spring and higher revenue numbers than we’ve ever seen in the past,” he continued. “We’ve inverted from the COVID year and from the historical average.”

Revenues from April and May and the anticipated revenue for June will make up for the revenue loss in the last fiscal year due to COVID, Billingsley said. However, he stressed that the sales tax revenue, though valuable, is “unpredictable.”

“What we have established through the seasonality of revenue and the historical trends, is that we have no idea what our revenue sources are going to look like moving into next year,” Billingsley said. Because of these “unknowns,” he recommends a property tax to pay for future projects.

E-Bikes on Moab trails

The Moab City Council tabled their discussion of electric bicycles at their April 27 meeting, but City Attorney Laurie Simonson reported that the county’s Trail Mix Committee, which manages many different types of trails around Moab, had made a proposal to the county for electric bicycles and their use on Moab’s trails.

In their proposal, Trail Mix made a recommendation that the county adopt a one-year trial period to allow Class 1 e-bikes on paved paths north of the City of Moab. Now, that proposal will go to the county, who may make significant amendments to what Trail Mix proposed.

“I think we’re in a good position because we have a potential ordinance to consider and we can make that in line with other jurisdictions,” said Simonson. “We’re poised once they’re finding a path.” The goal, she said, is to get these multiple jurisdictions — the county, the city and the Bureau of Land Management — “on the same page.”

“I would like the city to be more engaged as a partner on what we want to see [with e-bikes], and perhaps the county could be responsive to us as well,” said Councilmember Kalen Jones. “I would like to see, sooner rather than later, more of a dialogue between the city and county that might ultimately result in more consistent rules across all the paths.”

Scots on the Rocks

After staff reports, the council approved a special event permit for Scots on the Rocks, a Celtic Festival that celebrates the heritage and culture of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They have hosted their event at the Old Spanish Trail Arena for the past seven years, usually in November, but this year they have requested to hold their event in September due to weather. They are now requesting to host at the Center Street Ballparks and will put on a short parade down Center Street. The permit was granted unanimously.

Pay plan for city staff

The council also voted to adopt the pay plan schedule for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, which must be adopted annually by ordinance. The ranges have been adjusted by a 1.85% “cost of living” adjustment, which is the only adjustment that was made. Castle also reported that there were changes to staffing levels: the city filled one vacant position, created three new positions, eliminated seven positions and changed one job title. “We have not overfilled positions and salary ranges are all the same,” Castle said. The pay plan schedule was passed unanimously.

Rezoning on Kane Creek Boulevard

Next, the council discussed a request to rezone property located at approximately 389 Kane Creek Boulevard. The property is currently zoned RA-1, a residential-agricultural zone, “established for the primary purpose of providing a location where residential development associated with limited numbers of livestock can be maintained,” according to city code. The property owner and developer wish to change the property’s classification to R-3 for “high density residential development.” R-3 properties are generally located in the central part of the city, adjacent to commercial areas and where “multiple dwellings can be best supplied with necessary public facilities.”

Moab’s planning commission held a public hearing on the potential rezoning, and the majority of the commission itself voted in favor of changing the property from RA-1 to R-3 because “we need affordable housing so badly in this community,” according to City Planner Nora Shepard. The planning commission forwarded a positive recommendation to the city council, and only one planning commission member, Jessica O’Leary, voted against the rezoning.

“I am personally opposed to a zone change. We’re told that we don’t know what’s going to happen to the property, and so that is all moot,” said Councilmember Rani Derasary. “It's always messy because we always have an allusion to potential for a proposed project, but since there’s no contract, there’s no guarantee.”

Duncan and Knuteson-Boyd also expressed hesitation due to lack of a contract and other “assurances” that the city council cannot require.

“We do need more housing desperately. I feel like this is a good location because it’s central and adjacent to Kane Creek,” said Jones. “I am inclined to support it. I feel like if new development is not yielding the housing or the affordability that we want, then it’s incumbent upon us to change our land use code to steer it in that direction.”

Guzman-Newton agreed, referencing an “affordable housing issue throughout the West” and asserting that rezoning is the only way for the city to allow for more dense housing opportunities.

Jones made a motion to approve the property’s change from RA-1 to R-3, which Guzman-Newton supported, but the other three councilmembers voted nay. Thus, the rezoning was not approved.

Finally, the council voted to approve an interlocal cooperation agreement between Utah County and Moab City for the upcoming 2021 municipal election, which will feature ranked choice voting. The measure passed unanimously.