Grand County’s special service districts provide essential services and quality-of-life amenities that Grand County residents rely on, from trash pick-up to elderly care, preschool, and emergency medical response. Special service districts are not county departments; they’re separate government entities and are often funded in part by fees they charge for services. However, those revenues usually aren’t enough to cover all operations, and districts also get funding from grants and from taxes allocated by the county commission during the budgeting process.
At the Sept. 6 Grand County Commission meeting, six special service districts outlined their ongoing financial needs and the value of their services and submitted budget allocation requests.
In recent years, the Canyonlands Healthcare and EMS districts have been in reluctant conflict over the allocation of healthcare sales tax revenues. While the district officials are cordial and honor the value of each service, both organizations also need money for ongoing operations and future growth and improvement. In past years, 60% of healthcare sales tax revenues were allocated to the Canyonlands Healthcare district, and 40% were funneled to the EMS district. Both districts support a gradual shift toward a 50-50 split; this year, after negotiations, the districts have agreed to request that 43% of the healthcare sales tax go toward EMS and 57% go toward Canyonlands Healthcare.
The healthcare sales tax was implemented about five years ago and set at 0.5%, which is only half of the maximum allowed by state statute. Based on last year, the tax is estimated to generate about $3 million this year; commissioners and district officials noted that the tax could potentially be raised in the future, by voter referendum, to the full 1%.
“That is vital, vital monies for the two entities that receive those funds now and neither one of us can operate without it, quite frankly,” said Elizabeth Tubbs, chair of the EMS district board.
The EMS district has increased its services over the years, meaning they need more staff and resources. Spikes in fuel costs have increased the financial burden on the district this year; it also has upcoming needs for wage increases and a new ambulance. They also have debt obligations to the Community Impact Board for loans that allowed them to construct a much-needed new facility.
The EMS district is also requesting that the county use PILT—“payment in lieu of taxes” paid by the federal government for federal lands—money to bring its funding up to the same amount as 50% of the healthcare sales tax revenue. (The county used this approach in funding EMS last year.)
The main role of the Canyonlands Healthcare Special Service District is managing the Canyonlands Care Center, Moab’s residential senior care facility.
Tim McGinty, board vice chair for the Canyonlands Healthcare Special Service District, reminded the commission that there used to be no option for residential senior care in Moab, and praised the Canyonlands Care Center as a top-notch facility.
“I cannot say enough about the quality of the care that goes on at that care center,” McGinty said. The facility was inspected a few weeks ago and received a five-star rating; it’s one of only two elderly care centers in Utah where no residents died from COVID.
The district provides about $100,000 a month for care center operations, McGinty said. The district also pays for Moab Regional Hospital’s Disproportionate Share Hospital program, through which hospitals that provide care to low-income patients can receive a substantial match from federal sources if a governmental entity commits to paying a smaller amount.
“Generally, we provide about 250 to 300,000—that brings in an additional 500,000,” McGinty said.
The district also has debt to the Community Impact Board for loans used to construct its buildings.
Ashley Wareham, chair of the Grand County Transportation Special Service District, called in to the hybrid meeting. She said the district is getting about $220,000 a year from mineral lease monies allocated by the county.
“It’s great, it’s helpful, we don’t want to complain that it’s not enough—but as you’ve seen the recent flood damage that came through, we could probably use a lot more,” she said. She anticipates that there will be more stormwater infrastructure projects in the wake of the flooding, and there may be opportunities to secure outside funding by providing a match commitment from the district.
Commissioner Kevin Walker, who serves as liaison to the Transportation Special Service District, explained to the commission that the district can only spend its internal money directly on roads, and can’t use its budget for drainage projects like check dams and retention ponds that help keep roads in good condition. For drainage projects, it needs outside funding.
“We have recently been reminded of the importance of drainage,” Walker said, referring to recent major flooding. “I’m hoping that when it comes time to allocate money for this, we keep that in mind.”
Taryn Kay, superintendent of the Grand County School District, outlined the district’s needs for operating its preschool. She started by stressing the importance of preschool:
“That’s the best investment we can make as a community in our future,” Kay said. “ We know that when kids attend preschool that we reduce intergenerational poverty… we know that the graduation rate from high school improves for students who have had preschool experiences. We know that postgraduate success out of high school or after high school improves whether it’s college attendance or a trade. We know all of those things are made better for students who have had the opportunity to attend a preschool.”
The state doesn’t provide any funding for the preschool; federal funding for the special education part of the preschool provides only about $30,000 a year. Special education students attend for free, as dictated by federal law; any students whose families’ incomes fall below the poverty line attend for free, and other families pay according to a sliding scale based on income. The Grand County School District is requesting 50% of the county’s PILT funds for next year.
Waste services & recreation
The Canyonlands Solid Waste Special Service District acquired the Monument Waste collection service less than a year ago, and has been providing all the county’s waste services from collection to disposal. Solid Waste, like EMS, is significantly impacted by rising fuel costs, as many of its diesel-fueled vehicles operate on an all-day schedule. Solid Waste has also had to increase wages for its staff to keep employees on. The district is requesting the same amount of funding it received from the county last year: $500,000.
Jim Lewis, vice chair of the Recreation Special Service District, summarized some of the projects the district has recently completed or will soon complete: extended backstops and new scoreboards at the City Ballfields, purchasing portable pitching funds, and funding 4th of July fireworks. Lewis said they hope to fund some capital improvement projects for the Old Spanish Trail Arena. For example, at a recent rodeo event, the arena’s sound system went out.
“The speaker system and sound system is probably the major thing that we need funding for to get that back up to speed for any event that we do out there,” Lewis said.
With more funding, Lewis said they’d like to add a playground at the OSTA and improve dirt access roads.
The Recreation District has received about $53,000 in grant requests so far; its asking the county for the same allocations of PILT, mineral lease, and transient room taxes it received last year, or an increase.