City mulls how to spend revenues from Biden’s Rescue Plan

The City of Moab expects to receive $600,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Joe Biden on March 11.

Though the city expects to receive the funds sometime in May, it is “still evaluating how the funds might be used once they are received,” according to Lisa Church, the city’s communications and engagement manager.

In January, then-Finance Director for the city Klint York said that the city had a budget surplus of $1.5 million, mostly due to an infusion of $1.2 million in federal CARES Act funding. At that point, the city had also spent $1 million less than it did in 2019.

In December, the city had been down $2.5 million from pre-pandemic expectations. Of that, $1.4 million was from lost sales tax revenue; the remainder was shortfall the city had already anticipated.

Half of the $600,000 allocated to Moab by the Rescue Plan will come sometime this summer; the other half will come next year, according to Rachel Stenta. She was the city’s finance director before York and is helping the city prepare a budget in light of his recent departure.

Though the local economy lost revenue by virtue of the pandemic, local sales had recovered to 85% of normal by June and even set record highs by September.

The somewhat surprise recovery put the city and county in better financial positions than each had feared as the pandemic started to take over.

With federal funds more than replacing both the county’s and city’s deficits, both now face the question: What can and should be done with the extra cash?

Larry White says his plight is one of many like it

Two residents with properties near and along a private drive in Spanish Valley are waging a bid to stop a neighboring property owner from realizing his retirement plan of selling four of his lots over the course of 12 years.

The litigants, Christina Brinegar and Scot Andersen, live on Bench Road and Creekside Lane, respectively. The two filed a lawsuit in February, seeking to reverse a decision by the Grand County Commission to allow their neighbor Larry White from changing the subdivision of a 6.5-acre property he owns.

But, according to White, this is a battle he already fought before. “I went to battle 27 years ago,” White said. “I’m not doing that again.”

The battle White fought in 1994 was for a Planned Unit Development for Creekside Estates. It grants White flexibility that is not ordinarily granted by the county’s land use code, at the cost of oversight by the county. In this case, the county approved the plan.

That oversight is the same reason White had to approach the county again this year to amend the plan. The changes would cluster three of the four lots he hopes to sell on the corner of his property. The three clustered lots are each smaller than a half-acre; the fourth is 1.75 acres.

The overall density of Creekside Estates, which is 13 acres in total, would remain more spacious than one lot per acre. That is in line with the requirements of the county’s zoning for the broader area; normally, each lot can be no smaller than one acre in the most rural parts of the county.

However, the January decision gives White leeway that some of his neighbors are now seeking to limit. For them, the matter is one in which the county made a “capricious, arbitrary, unreasonable” decision in January by allowing White to change the subdivision of his property.

Brinegar said in an email to the commission that the change would be “a true detriment to our neighborhood” and one that “benefits only the developer.” For White, the accusation borders on absurd.

“These people are making it sound like I’m moving in here and trampling their property rights — like I’m dumping nuclear waste in their backyards,” White said. “I’m trying to give people a place to live in Moab. What the hell is wrong with that?”

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan filed in March to have Brinegar’s and Andersen’s case against the county dismissed. Judge Don Torgerson, the Seventh Judicial District Court judge hearing the case, ruled against her. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for May 19, according to Sloan.

Ultimately, White said, his story is one that plays out multifold across the county on a regular basis. He said property owners sell to buyers who then try to prevent people from moving in next to them. In this case, While says his rights as a property owner are at stake.

“I’m not a developer. I don’t do this for a living,” White said. “I’m a landowner who has the legal right to legally subdivide his property to sell off his lots for financial security.”