At an emergency meeting on Aug. 30, the Grand County Commission approved the allocation of $250,000 from the county’s transient room taxes earmarked for advertising and promotion to be used in a flood relief grant program. Businesses and nonprofits affected by flooding can apply for up to $20,000 of assistance, and county officials are hoping to get the program running as soon as possible.
“I want to extend deepest sympathies to the residents and businesses in Moab and Grand County that were affected by our unprecedented August 20 flooding event,” Commission Chair Jacques Hadler said at the beginning of the meeting. “I’ve seen a lot of the terrible damage to businesses and residences; I’ve talked to a lot of business owners, many of whom are personal friends of mine, and I just want to say that this relief effort is the result of genuinely wanting to help businesses as quickly as possible with the cleanup expense and to get them back on their feet.”
Many businesses suffered and have had to temporarily close during cleanup and repair efforts, meaning they’re losing business at the same time that they have extra costs. The county is able to use TRT promotion money for this relief effort under the Utah Emergency Management Act, which authorizes the county to utilize all available resources reasonably necessary to manage a local emergency. Grand County is currently in a state of emergency both at the local level and at the state level through an executive order from Utah Governor Spencer Cox.
To be eligible for the grant, an organization must have experienced significant impacts to its ability to operate, and have little or no access to recovery resources such as flood insurance.
“This is all so that the approval committee has some context to really drive resources towards highest need, lowest resource applicants,” said Economic Development Department Director August Granath, explaining a criteria matrix included in the grant proposal.
Applicants can request up to $5,000 or up to 20% of their damage assessment, whichever is greater, with an ultimate cap of $20,000. A 10% match will be required, and may be made in the form of labor, materials and supplies, services procured, or volunteer hours.
“Given the amount of volunteer hours that we’ve seen, I don’t think it should be a difficult match to meet,” Granath said. The state of Utah values one volunteer hour at $27.82.
While there was support for the grant program, business leaders also noted that they’d like to see the county spending more TRT funds on advertising.
Daniel Loveridge, general manager of the Hoodoo Hotel, called in to the hybrid meeting through Zoom to say that he’s grateful for the funding, but that with current low visitation numbers, businesses could use more advertising as well.
“I don’t think anybody in the community would say this is a bad use of government funds, of TRT funds. Anybody who dealt with this flood knows the necessity of it,” Loveridge said. But, he added,
“It’s my personal belief that the economy is down in part because we are not using the TRT funds where we should. We’re holding on to them instead of advertising more effectively, and that’s had a direct impact on our economy overall this year.”
Loveridge also spoke on behalf of the Utah Tourism Industry Association, of which he is a member. The organization recognizes the need for relief funding, he said, but also urges the county to focus on marketing.
“As an industry, we encourage Grand County to continue steps towards the development of a plan and strategy for the use of these dollars, outlining their reinvestment into the visitor economy and the intended use for these dollars, particularly in a more timely manner.”
Moab Chamber of Commerce Director Laici Shumway also thanked the county for putting together the grant program quickly, and also added that businesses need promotion as well.
“It’ll really help with that gap between getting their doors open now and then any federal funding that might become available,” Shumway said of the grant program, pointing out that the flood came at a particularly challenging time, as visitation has been down for the past few months. She said businesses are looking forward to advertising campaigns underway and planned for the near future, so that when they are ready to reopen their doors, there are visitors at those doors.
Hadler briefly described several advertising projects that are ongoing or will soon start: the county has a $300,000 contract with Love Communications for a campaign aimed at air travelers; the Economic Development Department is pursuing $500,000 in funding for a campaign aimed at driving visitors; and the department has $450,000 in state funding to continue the air-travel campaign.
Commissioner Kevin Walker said that while debate over how promotional TRT money is spent is valid, spending some of the money on immediate flood relief makes sense.
“We make decisions about our various promotional expenditures based on a lot of considerations for what we think is best… for the community,” Walker said. “I think in no conceivable scenario would we run out of money from that particular fund any time soon. It’s great to discuss how we should be spending the promotional budget… but I think spending this $250,000 from that is a very easy decision.”
The department plans to begin accepting applications as soon as possible, likely at the beginning of September. For updates on the grant and more resources for flood relief and damage reporting, visit grandcountyutah.net/flood.
“I think this is a great program to help businesses now, quickly,” said Hadler. “I hope we get full support from the commission and the community as we dig out and move on from the flood.”