“What we want to do is help [staff] and the council figure out what our capacity is to meet your objectives and goals for the next fiscal year, and also what our financial impacts are going to be,” said Mayor Joette Langianese at the beginning of the city of Moab’s two-day strategic planning workshop, held Jan. 19 and 20. She was addressing city staff: during the workshop, staff departments including the police, engineering, communications, sustainability, and parks presented their objectives for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. The workshop will help staff create a budget for the year ahead.

Many departments said they wanted to continue projects that were already in motion: for example, engineering will continue working on projects related to flood mitigation, the transit pilot program, and the unified transportation plan according to City Engineer Chuck Williams; sustainability wants to work on establishing Moab as a “dark sky community” and creating a “low-emission vehicle policy” for the city’s fleet; and the planning department will work on completing ordinances that were passed in the last fiscal year, such as the active employee household and outdoor lighting ordinances. 

Lisa Church, the city’s communications director, said her goals include overseeing a redesign of the city’s website, creating an engagement platform for residents called “Engagement HQ,” and improving the city’s communication with construction projects—city council members chimed in, saying the city should try to create mailers to send to any residents who may be impacted by those projects. Church said the new platform will hopefully be able to fill that gap, but the city will have to get people on the platform first. 

The Moab Arts and Recreation Center is pursuing a rebrand: Annie McVay, the parks, arts & recreation, and trails director said the MARC division of McVay’s department will refer to itself as the “Moab Arts,” and the MARC will become the “Moab Arts and Rental Center.” The division is looking to diversify and expand its class and program offerings and refine its processes for rentals and contracts for public art and gallery spaces. 

“We recognize that we will forever and always be the ‘MARC’ to the community, but we did feel strongly about taking ‘recreation’ out of that,” McVay said.

The Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center is also in a much better place than it was a few years ago, McVay said: the center has a more stable lifeguard and front desk staff and it offers many more classes and programs. 

“Now we feel comfortable—we know it’s not going to fall apart at any given moment,” she said, adding that demand for youth programming is high: demand for swim classes in the past year was higher than staff availability, something she wants to fix next year, and participation in youth sports has grown, particularly in soccer. 

McVay is also working on a city-wide parks master plan, which will define potential improvements to the city’s park spaces and recreation programming. 

Council discussions 

Following presentations, the council discussed a “strategic plan theme” for the 2023-2024 fiscal year—last year’s theme was “stabilization.” Langianese said she wanted the theme to reflect the city’s ability and willingness to move current projects forward; city council members said they wanted the theme to reflect community values—community meaning both residents and visitors, City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said. In the second day, the group decided to make the theme “enhancing our vibrant community, improving our quality of life,” which Langianese said she and a few staff members came up with over cocktails the night before.

The group also discussed how to utilize the six “pillars” outlined during last year’s “Moab Tomorrow Together” community vision process. Those pillars, which were decided upon after months of community surveys and discussion groups, were “tourism trajectory and economic diversification”, “affordability and equity”, “leadership and decision making”, “environmental stewardship”, “workforce and housing”, and “community fabric and wellbeing.” The pillars will help determine where the council will focus efforts in future city projects, and the council sorted many of its current projects—such as the Kane Creek Boulevard reconstruction and active employee housing ordinance—into the appropriate category. 

The council spent a good chunk of time discussing affordable housing and the cost of living in Moab: making housing that is attainable for locals still remains a major goal. Nathan Bracken, the city’s attorney, said that most of the affordable housing obstacles Moab runs into are from state law—the city faced months of litigation before it could pass the active employee housing ordinance—but he expects the “tides to turn,” he said, as more cities in Utah prioritize affordable housing over developments. Bracken also urged the council to conduct municipal code rewrites or updates every year to close any potential loopholes. 

The council also discussed the possibility of raising a property tax: Ben Billingsley, the city finance director, said one of the only reliable revenue streams the city could utilize for paying for long-term infrastructure maintenance is a property tax. Property taxes are extremely unpopular in Moab: the city hasn’t levied a property tax since 1992 because it has been able to rely on revenue from the tourist economy. 

In 2021, the city hit a backlog of $60 million in capital improvement projects, prompting the council to discuss implementing a tax. That idea was ultimately voted down in August 2021—but the backlog still remains.

“The time to address property tax should have been in 1995,” Billingsley said. “And now we have 30 years of deferred maintenance of this property tax that even if collected at a minimal rate would have helped move a lot of these projects forward and started digging us out of this hole.” 

It’s very likely that at some point soon, Langianese said, councilmembers will again have to discuss the possibility of implementing a property tax.

The city tracks its progress on its strategic plan on an interactive dashboard made last year. The dashboard, which is still showing progress on the 2022-2023 fiscal year plan, is available at www.moabcity.org/614/City-Strategic-Plan