As a full-time Grand County resident who bought property here 13 years ago, I would like to address the near complete lack of code enforcement in the county.
Prior to buying property here in preparation for settling into retirement, I researched many things, including zoning, land use and other county codes to see what was expected and allowed as a Grand County property owner.
The county’s stated purpose for its land use code to “protect the tax base of the county” and “promote the development of a more attractive and wholesome environment;” this rationale and the applicable codes in place seemed reasonable and well thought out.
I believe that when I bought my property, I entered into an implied contract with Grand County. Being a property owner required me to follow the guidelines and codes set forth, and to pay property taxes for county services. I have followed through on my end and the county now gets around $2,400 yearly from me, a significant increase over the years from the original $300 a year.
I have come to find out that the county does not follow its own codes with any consistency or regularity. Concerns over illegal junk yards and other violations hurting my property values prompted me to examine how the county handles code enforcement.
The process is “complaint-based,” but “obvious issues should not be ignored if observed by the county with health, safety and welfare having the highest priority.”
Knowing there are many flagrant code violations readily apparent, I sought to find out the number of complaints generated yearly, whether they were initiated by citizens or observed by county officials, and what the final resolution or status was. After inquiries to various county departments, I was given a possible figure of 15 to 20 complaints a year.
Given the inability of multiple county contacts to answer this question with any certainty, it is clear that this is mostly a guess and that record keeping to track such information is likely negligible or nonexistent.
Considering that code violation complaints can quite possibly escalate to legal action, how could there be no documentation or paper trail about something as simple as a tally of violations? I was shocked and dismayed to learn the extent of negligence in county code enforcement. With no documentation, it would be almost impossible to ensure compliance – if compliance was what county officials truly aspired to.
Instead, at the recent workshop on code enforcement, it became clear that the county picks and chooses what to enforce, which a planning commission member in attendance explicitly attested to, adding, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Voters, taxpayers and citizens should be aware of these comments and the repercussions of elected officials ignoring the processes and responsibilities we believe in good faith that they are carrying out. This is not how it works! If there is a code that they don’t want, there is a process in place to modify and or delete it, but ignoring it is not one of their options.
The recent focus, or “crackdown,” on nightly rentals shows that the county can be effective at code enforcement when it chooses; although I personally would rather have a clean, well-run nightly rental as a neighbor than an illegal junkyard, I believe that the county’s responsibility to ensure the compliance of both has been actively avoided and subject to the whims and wants of county officials.
This culture of selective enforcement has been going on for years and the fault lies solely with the council and council administrators over this time. In no way is this a reflection on the employees of Grand County, who I have always found to be courteous and professional.
Since the county has willfully chosen to ignore code enforcement, which negatively impacts my property values and the “attractive and wholesome environment” those codes are intended and written to facilitate, I have come up with what I feel is an equitable solution. Since entering into my implied contract with Grand County – wherein I follow the rules and pay my taxes and they provide services and enforce existing rules, regulations and codes – and it has not lived up to its end of the arrangement, I believe a refund is in order.
I would like the county to come up with a dollar value reflecting the importance of code enforcement using its own stated criteria of protecting the county’s tax base and promoting a healthy and attractive environment.
Dividing this value by the number of taxpayers will enable them to come up with my refund amount for code enforcement services not delivered over the past 13 years. I will be fine with either a lump sum payment or credit on future tax bills.
I would encourage other taxpayers who feel as I do to ask for their refund. If the record keeping for code violations by various county departments is any indication, the check is as good as in the mail.
Kevin Hoffman is a retired public safety professional who retired to the Moab area full-time five years ago.