[photo by Maggie McGuire/Moab Sun News]

At the April 7 meeting of the Grand County Council, Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine told council members that the department’s staff has “an amazing amount of work on our plates right now,”  saying he regularly works 10 or 12 hour days.

“I want to be frank,” he told the council. “Really the capacity that we have now and the organizational structure that we have now and the workload that we have now is literally unsustainable.”

Levine recommended that the council approve organizational changes that would increase salaries and increase operational efficiency. 

He noted that the department has been taking on more projects and responsibilities and recent years, and he said staff can’t keep up with the current pace.

One project the department had taken unexpected leadership of was in regional transportation planning. Levine noted that although he is not a transportation expert by job title or education, he has ended up taking a larger role in the process.

“In small communities, we wear many hats,” he said.

Levine described a three-phase approach to transportation planning, starting from a large geographic extent and narrowing into a smaller one.

Phase 1, Regional Planning, is underway, with two meetings of a steering committee having already taken place.

Phase 2 is a “unified master plan” between Grand County and Moab City and will begin, Levine estimated, when phase 1 is about half complete.

The third phase of planning will look at the specifics of a local transit system.

Levine emphasized the significance of local governments’ partnership with the Utah Department of Transportation, who is providing much of the funding for these planning efforts.

“I can’t thank them enough for being so committed to our region right now and willing to put up significant amounts of money and staff resources to complete this work,” Levine said.

Councilmembers were hesitant to support organizational changes and salary increases before the budgeting process had begun, particularly at a time when the county is facing real financial trouble. Levine assured the council that at least for this year, he could provide the salary increases, which would amount to $5,000, out of his own department’s operational budget.

Yet while councilmembers expressed appreciation for a more efficient organizational structure and for the work the CED is doing, they stopped short of supporting the restructuring or raises at this time.

“I hate to be the elephant on the computer but at these times,” said Councilmember Rory Paxman, referring to the fact that all council members are meeting on a digital platform. 

“I understand that he needs the help that he needs, but I don’t think we should be doing this now,” Paxman went on, saying that with current economic troubles he saw wage cuts in the future rather than raises.

Other council members shared similar views. 

County Administrator Chris Baird noted the likelihood that all county departments will have to reduce their services in the coming months, as loss of taxes in the economic slow-down caused by social distancing measures hurts budgets across the county.

“We can’t get around the reality of a massive hit to our revenue,” said Baird. “We’re just as dependent on tourism revenue as any business in town is.”

YouTube: Watch Grand County Council Meetings

Grand County Council meetings are held at 4 p.m. on every first and third Tuesday of the month. 

Meetings are currently held on Zoom and details of how to participate will be posted at www.grandcountyutah.net