We soon will have a part-time code-enforcement official in Grand County. Yet the decisions to create this position and authorize the official to issue citations remain controversial. The measure barely passed the council, indicating that we have another divisive issue on our hands. So let’s think it through carefully.
First, let’s acknowledge the strong arguments in favor of putting “teeth” into the code and enforcing it strictly. Spanish Valley has long harbored numerous unofficial junkyards. Their owners might argue that one person’s junk is another’s treasure and anyway they have a right to do as they please on their own property. But junkyards have serious impacts on neighbors. First, they lower the neighbors’ property values; few potential buyers want to live next to dozens of old, battered cars. Second, junkyards are ideal places for dangerous vermin to nest: rats and mice, which in the Southwest carry deadly hantavirus, and mosquitoes, which now transmit bird flu and perhaps soon the Zika virus. Moab/ Spanish Valley, like other towns, should have one supervised, centralized location to hold all of the area’s junk.
But, as Kelly Green argued recently, disposing of so much trash could pose serious economic hardship for some county residents. He might be right. If the costs are excessive we should find another way. But are they? I called a scrap dealer in Grand Junction who said that they would pay $55 a ton for each junk car delivered to them and $45 for each one they picked up. Perhaps we could interest Monument Waste in making some money on scrap metal as well, thereby enabling cleanup of unofficial junkyards at a profit to the junkyard owners. In that case, financial hardship would not be a reason to abandon serious enforcement of the code.
What should we do if junk cannot be sold? First, let’s create a dedicated, voluntary contribution-based county fund to subsidize the removal of junk (I’ll be the first to chip in). Second, we should have a mandatory waste removal service for the parts of Grand County outside Moab, funded from a slight increase in property taxes for all residents. The extra tax money would be used to contract with waste removal services such as Monument to remove trash and junk as it accumulates (not waiting for it to grow into a mountain). Thus, residents would pay a bit more in property taxes (especially wealthier ones with more valuable property), but wouldn’t receive bills from trash haulers. In effect, affluent residents would help the less well-off clean up the town, boosting property values and suppressing dangerous varmints.