This property at 1171 Murphy Lane has been the subject of past nuisance complaints. The person who fills the county's new code enforcement position will respond to future complaints regarding similar issues. [Moab Sun News file photo]

For the first time in its history, Grand County will have a part-time employee whose main job is to crack down on violations of the county’s land-use code.

The Grand County Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday, Jan. 3, to create a new job description for a part-time code enforcement officer; council members Rory Paxman and Curtis Wells voted against the majority. In a separate vote, the council split 4-3 to give the officer the ability to issue code enforcement citations, with Paxman, Wells and Greg Halliday voting against the majority.

The previous council set aside $20,000 in the current fiscal year’s budget for the new position, which will be based out of the Grand County Community Development Department and is expected to be established within the next six months.

The code enforcement program will encompass a variety of functions, from answering the public’s general questions about zoning and land-use issues, to helping out with other code compliance initiatives as needed. The officer will also work with the county’s community action team to design and implement an incentive-based program that clears the way for the removal of junk, debris and waste on private properties.

Grand County Council member Mary McGann said she sees the merit in having a code enforcement officer, and she thinks that members of the community feel the same way.

“We’ve had quite a few letters from people wanting us to do this,” she said.

For her part, McGann sees value in the position because it mitigates the risk of potential litigation.

“I believe having laws on the books that are not being enforced puts the county in jeopardy of being sued,” she said. “There are people that say we are not doing our job. It’s important for us if we’re going to have laws on the books that we have the power to enforce those rules. If the rules aren’t appropriate, then we need to change them, but if we have them and we don’t enforce them, then people can sue.”

However, some council members and local residents believe the position is unnecessary.

In a letter to the Moab Sun News, Moab resident Kelly Mike Green said the previously budgeted $20,000 could perhaps be better spent by allocating it to taxpayers, who could then haul their refuse to a designated disposal site.

“Including dump vouchers and giving people a reasonable period of time and flexibility to dispose of items could also be considered as an incentive to help reduce tensions,” Green wrote.

Green, who was present for the council’s discussion of the issue, said that it will be especially expensive for property owners to comply with code enforcement directives if many things need to be removed from their land.

“A pickup load of material costs around $21 or more at the landfill even if you have a minimal load,” he wrote. “This seems a bit steep as taxpayers are already subsidizing things heavily. To avoid paying fees, electronics, couches, beds and other items appear magically on the outskirts of our valley and it is an ongoing problem.”

In the same letter, Green also expressed concern that a police officer will have to accompany the code enforcement officer for protection, which will cost taxpayers additional money.

McGann thinks the position should pay for itself in part through the collections of Transient Room Taxes.

“That was why there was a push for it in the first place … to have someone to enforce the law regarding overnight rentals,” she said. “Some of the laws that will be enforced will be getting rid of illegal overnight rentals, which will help pay for the officer.”

Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said, “People’s fear that there’s just this officer that’s going to ticket them is unfounded.”

Fitzgerald thinks the code enforcement officer should be given the ability to write citations without the prior approval of his office, which will lighten county staff’s burden.

“It will be good to have an officer that can give citations,” he said. “It takes a lot of time for county staff to do that, and they’re not equipped to do so. It fits better with a compliance officer. It will ensure that people are following our zoning laws.”

Fitzgerald thinks that having an officer appointed to the job is not only better for county staff, but is also better for the community.

“There’s a large amount of people that would just pay the citation and take care of it, rather than it have to go to court all the time,” he said. “It’s more efficient for them rather than have to come to court and hire an attorney. A lot of times people just want to get it done with and walk away.”

If someone wants to challenge a citation, he said, they can always ask for a due process review through the county attorney’s office.

McGann said she believes the new position can succeed as long as the county takes a positive approach toward code enforcement.

“We’ve started talking to (other communities) and we found out that if you approach it from the idea of helping and assisting people come into compliance it works very well, as opposed to being heavy-handed, which would be the last resort,” she said. “Our goal is to work with people and it will be good for everyone.”

Council splits 5-2 on vote to establish position to deal with land-use violations and other infractions

We’ve started talking to (other communities) and we found out that if you approach it from the idea of helping and assisting people come into compliance it works very well, as opposed to being heavy-handed, which would be the last resort.