Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder is appealing to Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus and the city council to consider a $72,000 housing allowance in a budget request for police officers.
The housing allowance will help the police department’s officers find and secure housing, Winder said, but Moab City Manager David Everitt did not include the request among recent budget recommendations for the council’s initial consideration on April 10.
The budget recommendations Everitt presented to council serve as a starting point for the council as it prepares the next year’s city budget in coming weeks. Winder wants the city to provide $300 a month per officer to be used toward housing, as long as those homes are located in a specified geographical area. He said San Juan County implements something like it, as do “resort cities” like Park City.
“Because of the housing issue in Moab, our officers are having a hard time finding residency,” Winder said in an address to city council April 10 when he was invited to explain his request even though Everitt rejected it.
Winder recognized the shortage of affordable housing is a problem affecting more than his department alone.
“I think it’s a global issue, and I get that,” Winder said. “But selfishly, I’m looking out for law-enforcement issues.”
Moab City Police Officer Braydon Palmer is experiencing the affordable housing problem in Moab firsthand. Palmer has been with the department for nine months, but has wrestled with finding a residence for himself and his wife since moving to Moab four years ago.
“From day one being down here in Moab, we’ve been continually looking for a home,” Palmer told the Moab Sun News this week. “Financially, we’ve felt prepared for it, but given the lack of homes, and — I don’t know,” he said.
When they first moved to the area, the Palmers temporarily lived with family friends. Now, even with both he and his wife working full-time, and able, he said, to probably afford a home in the $200,000 to $250,000 range, it’s been tough to find one.
“There probably is right now on the market maybe one home that’s maybe under $300,000. And, if there’s one, it’s on the market only maybe a week,” Palmer said.
With the housing situation such as it is in Moab, those homes go fast; they’re “hard to catch,” Palmer said.
For the time being, Palmer and his wife live in a fire station. As a volunteer firefighter, Palmer is able to secure a studio apartment attached to a fire station in Spanish Valley.
“It’s maybe, I figure, 450- to 500-square-feet. It’s a little box but it does what we need it to do,” Palmer said.
With the extra $300 per month Chief Winder is suggesting for the housing allowance, Palmer said it would make a home in the area affordable.
“That would be just the cushion we need,” Palmer said.
Palmer echoed something Winder had mentioned to the council: “A big thing at the [Moab City] Police Department lately has been recruitment, and not just recruitment, but retention,” Palmer said.
There are plenty of applicants, he said, but when it comes time for potential officers to make a decision about moving to Moab, “The number one issue is housing.”
Following Winder’s appeal to the mayor and city council in support of the housing allowance during the city council meeting April 10, Everitt told the Moab Sun News that he’s sympathetic to the housing problem.
“The police department has the most acute need for something like that,” Everitt said. He added: “I wasn’t quite ready to put my stamp on a housing stipend policy for only one department.”
Everitt indicated such a thing might be considered in future budgets.
“I think we’re headed there at some point,” Everitt said.
As with other budget line-items taken into consideration, the Moab City Council could choose to insert the housing allowance by the time a final budget is approved in May. Between now and then, Everitt said, “Numbers change and float a lot … things are really fluid.”
The council will develop a tentative budget before its next meeting on April 24. Further work will likely be done to present a budget at a public hearing scheduled for May 8, with final passage set for May 22. State law requires the city budget to be set by the end of June.
Everitt’s initial recommendation did include a 3 percent cost of living allowance increase for all city employees across the board.
Initial projections anticipate an increase in the city’s tax revenue of 7.9 percent. However, the general fund for fiscal year 2019, at least per the initial recommendation, projects the tax revenue increasing by just 3.5 percent, with a 43 percent decrease in the amount of the city’s one-time revenues.
One of Everitt’s goals for the coming budget: reduce the ratio of one-time funding to ongoing funding.
Too high a ratio, as Everitt explained, puts the city at risk if too much of it is funded by one-time or indefinite sources if and when those sources become no longer available.
“That’s a helpful measure, I feel,” Everitt said.
The 2018 budget saw $1.43 of one-time funding spent for every $1 of ongoing funds. Next year’s budget takes that number down to 93 cents — or a ratio of 0.93.
“Below one is good,” Everitt said.
No allowance included in 2019 city budget
“From day one being down here in Moab, we’ve been continually looking for a home.” – Moab City Police Officer Braydon Palmer
– First part of April: Moab City Manager makes budget recommendations to council.
– Council reviews and deliberates on the budget throughout April.
– April 24: Council adopts a “tentative budget.”
– May 8: Public hearing on budget during Moab City Council meeting.
– May 22: Council adopts final budget.