That question was an undercurrent of discussions leading to last week’s decision by the Grand County Council about how to divide state money among four local special service districts.
The state funding comes annually from three sources: mineral lease fees from mineral exploration on federal lands in Grand County; payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), which are federal payments made to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands in the county’s jurisdiction; and mineral bonus payments, a one-time fee companies pay when they begin leasing public lands.
The council voted during its Oct. 16 meeting to divide the 2013 money as follows:
• Mineral lease – Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District, two-thirds Grand County Transportation Special Service District, one-third.
• Mineral bonus – Grand County Recreation Special Service District, 90 percent; health care, 10 percent.
• PILT – health care, 50 percent; Grand County School District, 30 percent; transportation district, 20 percent.
PILT and mineral lease funding for the Grand County Solid Waste Special Service District was axed completely by the council. Instead, the district’s funding will come from a portion of the 1.25 percent transient room tax increase that was approved by the council earlier this year.
It is not yet known how much money each category will receive for quarterly allocations in 2013. However, last year’s state appropriation to Grand County was $600,000 for the mineral bonus fund, $450,000 for mineral leases, and $278,000 for PILT.
One of the issues in this year’s discussion involved the county council’s decision to cut the recreation district’s mineral bonus funding by10 percent for 2013. The change means the recreation district would receive $540,000 in mineral bonus funds, compared to $600,000 in 2012. The health care district will receive a boost of $60,000 from the mineral bonus fund if the 2013 revenues are the same as last year.
Council vice chairwoman Audrey Graham wanted the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District to receive half of the mineral bonus money and the recreation district to get the other half. However, the council didn’t vote to follow her suggestion.
Despite that, the health care district still benefits under the new allocation. It will receive $499,000 next year compared to $381,000 in 2012 if the state funding stays the same.
But during an interview, Graham said she’s concerned that the recreation district will develop a costly new sports complex on county land adjacent to the Old Spanish Trail Arena south of Moab. She believes that money could be better used other places – including the health district to help Canyonlands Care Center.
But Grand County Recreation Special Service District board chairman Mike Steele defends the plan, saying it will be a recreation area serving the entire community.
The recreation district has amassed a general fund of $2.1 million over the years and recently received approval for another $1 million from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB), Graham said. The idea for a ball field, which has not been built, surfaced about 2005 before the recession, she said.
“I can’t stand to see this happen,” Graham said. “I don’t think this represents the community’s priorities at this time.”
Construction of single-family homes in Grand County soared by 17 percent annually in the mid-2000s, she noted, suggesting an influx of residents who would use the fields. Now, growth is again projected at the traditional 1 percent per year, according to a Utah State University study, Graham said.
She said the construction surge “was mostly second homes and not year-round families with children.”
Council chairman Gene Ciarus said Tuesday he didn’t have time to comment in detail about the funding decision, but responded briefly to questions from The Times-Independent.
“I don’t think it’s the best allocation, but it’s what the council voted for,” he said. “You saw what Audrey proposed and what ended up [passing]. It was far away from what she proposed.”
Steele emphasized that the recreation proposal has much more than ball fields. He said there will be a soccer field, a pavilion similar to the one in Monticello, and picnic shelters located throughout the grounds in addition to ball fields.
He added that $1.2 million has been earmarked for the project.
“We have saved money for it,” Steele said. “We’ve been very conservative with our budgeting.”
As for the 10 percent reduction in mineral bonus money for 2013, Steele said the recreation district is in good financial shape and won’t be affected by the change.
“We are OK with what they [council] did,” Steele said. “There are other needs in the community.”
The council appoints members of special service district boards and has the power to divide state funding among the districts. But state law prohibits the council from dictating how the boards can spend the money.
Special district meetings are open to the public. Dates, times and locations are available online at www.grandcountyutah.net/meetings.htm.