Few votes were called at the city’s regular council meeting on Aug. 11, but various topics were discussed, including public engagement initiatives and finances.

City finances could be worse

City Finance Director Klint York updated the council on the city’s finances, reporting that numbers are slightly better than anticipated, though tax revenues are still down significantly from comparable numbers last year.

York displayed tax revenues in 2020 by month and compared them to the same months of 2019, showing the biggest disparity in June revenues (which reflect April incomes, due to a two-month delay between taxes paid at the register and taxes in city accounts).

This June, tax revenues were $503,353 less than they were in the same month of 2019. However, that gap has been shrinking. August 2020 tax revenues (which reflect June economic activity) are only $171,709 less than tax revenues in August 2019.

“August last year was the biggest month we’ve ever done in Moab, as far as I can tell,” York added, putting that disparity into perspective.

The city has been taking dramatic measures to cut costs during this financially difficult time, and York said that’s been a big help to the budget.

“I also want to note that with all the cuts that we had done with spending, our expenses from May to July, compared to [the first quarter] of this year, were down 28%, almost $700,000 in savings,” said York.

Considering the data available and projections for the near future, York said he was reigning in his estimate of total lost revenue for 2020. Early spring estimates put the loss at about 3 million dollars; now York expects a 1.6 or 1.7 million dollar loss.

City Manager Joel Linares cautioned the council and staff that though the situation could be worse, the city is still in a tight financial position.

“The bleeding has slowed, but it has not stopped. We need to stay really vigilant and focused,” he said.

Linares and York also both pointed out that the city does not levee a property tax, nor does it levee a special service district tax for services, as other Utah cities lacking property taxes do.

“That makes us the most Republican city in the state of Utah,” Linares said.

Mill Creek focus groups

As the controversial Robin Groff Memorial Park broke ground on Aug. 10, the day before the meeting, Niehaus said she had been reflecting on how to channel the energy produced by the community division over the park.

“We’re always looking to turn our lemons into lemonade,” she said, and so she plans to host focus groups composed of citizens who have been vocal about the bike skills park, riparian experts and outdoor recreation advocates to discuss segments of the Mill Creek corridor from the Power Dam area down to the Colorado River.

“The intention is not to come up with policies or projects, but that we can use this opportunity to listen and to collect data,” Niehaus explained. She outlined five objectives of the focus groups: delineate segments of the corridor; outline metrics to gauge the riparian health of the creek; identify areas lacking connectivity for multi-modal travel on the trail system; identify the users of the parkway; and honor the policy of public input and engagement that the city is currently developing for use of city property.

“Hopefully this process will be the right step in gathering information that will inform how we move forward with future projects and policies,” Niehaus said.

Respond to the census!

All data for the 2020 Census is due by the end of September. Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton reported that Utah’s self-response rate to the census questionnaire is at 67.5%; by comparison, Grand County’s self-response rate is currently at 50.8%. Census data can affect how resources are allocated among locations for the next ten years.

“There’s no easier time to do the census than now because we have an online option,” Guzman-Newton said, urging council members to reach out to their networks and encourage everyone to complete the census.

Moab City Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. For agendas and current meeting policies, go to www.moabcity.org/151/City-Council

“The bleeding has slowed, but it has not stopped. We need to stay really vigilant and focused.”

– Joel Linares