The Grand County Commission voted in a new chair and vice-chair at their first meeting of 2022. Commissioner Gabriel Woytek, who had been serving as vice chair, was unanimously approved to serve as chair in 2022; Commissioner Jacques Hadler, one of the newest members of the commission, was unanimously approved to serve as vice chair in 2022. Congratulations to the new commission leaders!

During the meeting, the commission heard reports from Code Enforcement Officer Josh Green and Victim Advocate Karen DeKruger. Commission Administrator Chris Baird reviewed COVID-19 statistics for the county since the pandemic began.

Code enforcement

Green joined the county as code enforcement officer seven months ago. Since then, he reported, he’s dealt with 48 code violation complaints. 41% of those cases were closed with no violation found.

The top complaint, Green reported, was suspected illegal camping, with 14 reports in that category. Complaints about illegal overnight rentals were in a different category.

“One hundred percent of the people … have been permanent residents of Moab or seasonal workers living in Moab that cannot find a place to stay,” Green said.

Green said he and County Attorney Christina Sloan have worked out a voluntary compliance agreement system for code violations, where Green works with people to agree on an achievable course of action through which the person can come into compliance.

He gave an example of a resident illegally camping in an RV while waiting for a unit in a mobile home park to be vacated and fixed so they could move in; Green gave them a two-week deadline to come into compliance, which gave the person time for the mobile home to open up so they could move in.

“What we’re trying to do is make it to where we work with people,” Green explained.

Sloan congratulated Green on his work, and highlighted an example in which he discovered an unlicensed and illegal nightly “glamping” rental.

“Not only did Josh get it quickly shut down, he filed some information with the state tax commission,” said Sloan. “They immediately investigated it and issued a fine and overdue taxes against this company which allowed us to recover the [transient room tax] that they had never paid for their illegal activity.”

Victim Advocate Unit

Karen DeKruger heads the Victim Advocate Unit, housed under the Moab City Police Department. She works with crime victims throughout the county, including incidents managed by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. The unit was created in 2018, and is supported by the MCPD, the GCSO, the Children’s Justice Center and the Grand County Attorney’s Office. Most of the unit’s funding comes from a grant through the Victims of Crime Act, with matches from local entities.

DeKruger can help clients navigate the legal system, keep them updated on their cases, assist with communication with agencies, and help them claim restitution and or reparations. She can refer people to other agencies for social services, and can provide services and supplies like transportation, food, lodging, clothing, or fuel.

The unit served 162 clients in 2019, 198 clients in 2020, and 67 clients in the first quarter of 2021. Because of data entry backlogs, statistics beyond that are not yet available.

This current VOCA grant, which lasts for two years, provides $61,095 per year for 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. That’s a reduction from the previous year, which was $78,000.

DeKruger hopes to secure another grant to pay for a full-time advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We certainly have the numbers of crime victims to support a person full-time,” DeKruger said.

In goals for the future, she also hopes to get a reliable volunteer who can help with data entry, more fully develop unit policies and procedures, develop a plan for passing leadership of the unit to another person, and get a van.

“The city has been wonderful about letting me use a little Prius” to transport people in emergency situations, DeKruger said. Though she referred to the vehicle as “The Beast,”she noted that a van might be better suited to the task.

COVID recap

Commission Administrator Chris Baird gave a short recap of COVID-19 statistics to illustrate the effectiveness of the county’s pandemic policies. He pointed out that Grand County has the 5th lowest COVID-19-related death rate of any county in Utah. Some of the counties with a lower death rate than Grand are very sparsely populated; Summit County, which is more densely populated, also has a lower COVID-19-related death rate than Grand.

Grand County has seen six deaths due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Baird created a chart that calculates how many individuals would have died in Grand County if it had similar death rates as other Utah counties. Using that model, Baird found that if Grand County had the same death rate as Uintah County, eight more people, or a total of 14, would have died from COVID-19 in Grand County. If Grand had the same death rate as Carbon, 13 more people would have died; if the death rate in Grand matched Emery, 17 more people would have died; if Grand had the same death rate as San Juan county, 23 more people would have died.

Baird said the numbers show that Grand County’s precautions and policies were, and continue to be, effective.

“You can see that as tough as it was and as tough as it continues to be, that I think it’s pretty clear that we are in fact saving lives… I appreciate that everybody stuck with it and we continue to stick with it,” Baird said. “It’s sometimes difficult to quantify these things, but I think at this point the statistics are pretty clear, that what we’re doing is saving lives.”

The Grand County Commission meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Youtube channel. Schedules, agendas and opportunities for public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net. Residents can email commission@grandcountyutah.net to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.