At this week’s Grand County Commission meeting, elected officials approved funding for a small business development center and a county fair. Both projects were intended to be funded using tourism tax money set aside for economic diversification activities, but recent legislation barred that use of money after July 1.
Grand County generates a significant portion of its revenue from transient room taxes collected on overnight hotel and motel stays, referred to as the “TRT.” State regulations mandate that a portion of these taxes must be put towards promoting tourism, while another portion is for addressing tourism’s impact on a community.
In 2021, the state legislature altered regulations to allow the county to use some TRT revenues for economic diversification. Grand County budgeted for the use of these funds for projects like contributing to a Small Business Development Center staff member dedicated to the area, funding the Grand County Fair, and a pilot program providing small grants to local businesses.
However, the state legislature passed House Bill 416 in its last session. The bill, sponsored by Representative Phil Lyman, terminated that diversification funding after July 1.
“We’re going to have a fair bit of diversification money to figure out how to spend before [then],” said Chris Baird, the county’s strategic development director. Baird said that there was over $500,000 in set-aside diversification funds that must be re-budgeted.
Commissioners unanimously voted to fund the SBDC staff person, to be located at the Utah State University Moab extension. The original agreement spread a $300,000 payment over the next three years; now the full amount will be paid out of diversification funds prior to July 1, ensuring that the business consulting services come to Grand County residents.
“I’ve worked with economic development staff and the economic diversification boards, and they agree that the SBDC is a high priority to get going with the funding we have left this year,” Baird said.
The Grand County Fair was awarded $50,000 in funding as organizers work to “make the county fair more of a fair,” as one said at the meeting. Baird commented that the price was reasonable for funding what is intended to be a four-day event.
“I think that this is a good use of this particular pot of funds that we have,” said Commission Vice Chair Kevin Walker. “I’m excited that we’ve got big plans for the fair.”