During the regular city council meeting on Dec. 14, the council discussed changes to the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget, which included an increase of funds dedicated to paying a lobbyist to work with the state legislature. Two years ago, the city was paying $40,000 per year for lobbyists; the new budget allows $50,000-$70,000 per year.
“It’s going to be a pretty vicious legislative session this year,” said City Manager Carly Castle. “… I think we’re facing the barrel of some really devastating changes if [we] don’t try to negotiate different outcomes.”
She’s most worried about three arenas: land use, OHV noise regulations, and the active employee housing ordinance.
In 2021, Grand County updated its business licensing to include noise regulations for ATV businesses; in the 2022 legislative general session, the state passed a law making many of those new amendments illegal. Now, the county and city are facing a lawsuit: In September, the UTV advocacy nonprofit BlueRibbon Coalition and 11 Moab businesses moved forward with a formal lawsuit challenging noise ordinances and the business licensing requirements.
The city’s active employee housing ordinance also faced significant pushback from the state legislature. In 2021, Moab began the process for developing an ordinance that would require new developments to set aside a percentage of units for the local workforce. But the city was threatened with numerous lawsuits from members of the state legislature, who argued the ordinance would impact property rights. After months of deliberation, the ordinance was approved in August.
“I don’t think we can get adequate representation at the legislature with the current, $40,000, rate,” Castle said. “… Given the amount of legislative defense that we will likely need this year, and the relationship building that we will need this year, I think that even $70,000 isn’t quite adequate … I can see us easily spending $100,000, but I don’t think we can afford it.”
Mayor Joette Langianese said she expects to be more involved in the state legislature this calendar year than she was last year, and she said she needs the lobbyist connection.
Councilmember Rani Derasary pushed back on the increase, saying that within Utah, “it’s hard to make progress.” Essentially, she said she didn’t see the benefit of paying more for a lobbyist if their efforts won’t work anyway.
“I have a hard time making an added investment because, no offense to anyone in the profession of lobbying, but in the state of Utah, I don’t have great confidence that we’re going to see a great return,” she said.
Derasary said many solutions community members have had for the housing crisis, such as the active employee housing ordinance, face severe pushback from the legislature no matter who the Moab lobbyist is.
“What happens when you have a legislature that’s 85% developers is they will not allow a lot of the housing solutions that are allowed in other parts of the country or other parts of the world,” she said. “… I honestly feel like I would be misleading people if I thought that [an increased lobbying contract] was a good investment, just from what I’ve seen of the bullying that goes on at the legislature and the badmouthing of our county.”
The motion to increase the lobbying contract passed 4-1, with Derasary dissenting as a “protest vote,” she said. The city expects to hire a new lobbyist for 2023 soon.