At their regular meeting on Feb. 16, the Grand County Commission voted unanimously to take an official stance on several bills being discussed at the state legislature during the ongoing 2021 general session. County Attorney Christina Sloan outlined the impacts of several proposed bills on Grand County.
House Bill 75: Municipal Alternative Voting Methods Pilot
HB 75, introduced by Rep. Jeffrey Steinquist (R-District 51), establishes a five-year pilot program that allows municipalities to use a ranked choice voting system if its elected body chooses. Sloan noted that Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus has expressed interest in using this new election format, in which voters rank their preferred candidates on the ballot. If a candidate is ranked number one on more than half the ballots, that candidate is the winner; if not, the least popular candidate is eliminated and run-off elections follow.
Sloan recommended that the commission oppose the bill not because of any problem with the pilot program, but because the bill mandates that the county manage municipal elections. Grand County currently does manage Moab City elections and has a contract under which it is paid to do so.
“We don’t get compensated for true costs and all the staff time but it’s a friendly arrangement, and they do pay us to do it,” Sloan said. “The problem is that under this bill, if there is a dispute about costs, we would still have to run the election. It couldn’t be a basis for saying ‘no.’”
Sloan said the new pilot program may require the purchase of new tallying machines, and it’s unclear who would be responsible for the cost of that purchase.
Senate Bill 164: Utah Housing Affordability Amendments
“This looks like an affordable housing bill,” said Sloan of the bill introduced by Sen. Jacob Anderegg (R-District 13), noting that Anderegg has a strong history of supporting affordable housing policies. The bill creates an affordable housing pilot program and provides that municipalities may grant real property to be used for affordable housing. However, Sloan pointed out that it contains a provision that “if we have a requirement where a developer has to provide affordable housing units or contribute to a housing fund, we have to fully offset all costs to the developer.” She said it’s not clear what it might mean to “fully offset” costs or how those costs might be determined, and advised the commission to oppose the bill.
Senate Bill 176: Mineral Lease Fund Amendments
Sen. Ronald Winterton (R-District 26) introduced this bill which, Sloan said, “revises and broadens the purpose for the CIB [Community Impact Board] fund beyond mitigating impacts of extractive industry.” The Community Impact Board was established to provide loans and grants to government entities impacted by mineral resource development on federal lands. In 2020, environmental organizations Living Rivers and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the CIB for granting funding to a proposed railway that would transport oil. The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, which received the funding, is also a defendant in the suit; the coalition has also recently pushed to create the Book Cliffs Highway in spite of Grand County’s opposition to the project. Winterton is a member of the SCIC. Sloan said SB 176 appears to be a direct response to the lawsuit, and recommended that Grand County oppose the bill.
House Bill 281: County Development Activity Amendments
Sloan explained that HB 281 which was introduced by Rep. Phil Lyman (R-District 73), places conditions on developments in one county that affect another county, if those developments affect the neighboring entity’s land use code. She noted that the bill was prompted by activities in Beaver County, but would be relevant locally.
“I do think it would help us manage certain activity along our borders,” Sloan said. She recommended that Grand County support HB 281.
Senate Bill 168: Designated Vehicle Routes Amendments
Sen. Mike McKell (R-District 7) is sponsoring this bill designed to help resort communities like Moab mitigate excessive noise from OHVs. [See “Making noise at the capitol,” Feb. 19 edition. -ed.] Sloan told the commission that the Utah Association of Counties opposes the bill, which would allow resort communities to impose curfews for OHVs on municipal streets and limit OHV use on certain routes. In a summary provided to the commission, Sloan mentioned a recommendation from the Utah Association of Counties that instead of SB 168, Grand County should pursue a bill that allows law enforcement in resort communities to use noise as a primary reason for vehicle stops. Currently, a suspected noise violation is not considered justification for a vehicle stop, and this is one obstacle to effective noise ordinance enforcement. Sloan recommended that the county support SB 168, and also consider pursuing that recommendation.
House Bill 82: Single-family Housing Modifications
At the Feb. 2 Grand County Commission meeting, Sloan recommended that the county oppose Rep. Raymond Ward’s (R-District 19) bill prohibiting counties from placing parameters on the construction of ADUs. Since then, the bill has been redrafted. It still prohibits counties from regulating some aspects of ADU size, but it does allow counties to regulate utility installation, some design elements, and parking, and says ADUs must comply with fire codes and business license regulations. With the latest changes, Sloan recommended that the county change its stance to neutral on the bill.
County attorney keeps commission apprised