[Moab Sun News file photo]

The Moab City Council took steps to avoid unpleasant and unanticipated sticker shock for homeowners, homebuilders and other developers.

On Tuesday, April 10, the council approved two amendments to city code to ease some of the burden of property development — or at least keep homeowners from finding themselves in a last-minute lurch.

The first, while perhaps sounding like a more arduous requirement initially, would require water and sewer impact fees to be paid at the time a developer receives a building permit. Before this week, city code required impact frees to be paid at the time of occupancy or connection to those services.

“This has created mild surprise,” Moab City Manager David Everitt said, invoking a good degree of understatement to drive the point that move-in time is a bad time for homeowners to realize they still owe $1,050 before they can take up residence.

Requiring the impact fees to be paid up front at the time a building permit is issued puts owners and/or developers on notice for impact fees, removing the last-minute “surprise.”

The council passed the change easily.

The second amendment was intended to lessen the burden placed on homeowners who, under city code, are allowed to pay a fee in lieu of being required to install property improvements such as sidewalk, street, curb and gutter.

Under city code, Everitt explained, residents are required to provide curb, gutter and sidewalk as a condition of development. However, if the property meets certain criteria, the property owner can pay a fee instead.

“The idea is, generally we want people to build this stuff,” Everitt said. “But we also recognize that there are cases where that creates real absurdity,” such as on long dirt roads where there would only be a few feet of paved street and sidewalk. “It really creates an absurd situation.”

Until the council’s April 10 action, the fee required was 150 percent of the cost that would be incurred if the improvements were installed. Everitt suggested, and the council acceded, to reduce the burden of that to 110 percent of the cost of construction.

The amendment met with resistance from Council member Mike Duncan, who viewed the fee as a penalty, and who indicated the change may have been spurred by the complaint of only one individual. Everitt and Development Services Coordinator Sommar Johnson, however, both said there were several instances throughout the city where the issue existed.

Duncan also questioned the enforcement of the code, saying neither he nor one of his neighbors had been hit by the requirement to build the improvements or pay the fee.

Duncan’s objections stirred some tension between himself and the city manager.

“Enforcement is another question,” Everitt said. “I assume you want us to enforce this, right?”

“Well, I don’t know … Where does the money go?” Duncan rejoined, asking in particular if the money could be refunded to someone who at first pays the fee, then later decides to go ahead and put in the required improvements.

Everitt responded to what he apparently saw as accusation implicit in Duncan’s position.

“This is not an opportunity for the city to try and make money off of people here,” he said.

Everitt and Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany explained that the fee was a one-time payment that stayed with the property, not successive owners, and that yes, it could be refunded to owners who later put in the improvements themselves, or else credited to property owners against any assessment imposed by the city for improvements undertaken by the city.

It was only toward the end of discussion that Duncan realized that, since the ordinance in question potentially affected him, he had a conflict of interest. It brought a mild rebuke from Everitt.

“You shouldn’t have participated in the discussion at all if you have a conflict,” Everitt said.

Duncan recused himself and left the room for the remainder of the discussion and the vote, which the council passed, 3-0.

Duncan gets mild rebuke from city manager for late conflict-of-interest recusal