ST. GEORGE – The St. George Chamber of Commerce hosted a city council candidate forum Wednesday afternoon at Dixie State University.
Candidates were each allowed two minutes to respond to questions prepared by the Chamber of Commerce Community Action Committee. The forum was moderated by CCCAC Chairman Greg Hardman, who encouraged the candidates to illustrate how their positions differ from their opponents.
The candidates outlined their economic platforms in the debate. Ed Baca, a former police detective, talked about how important it is for St. George to have a vibrant business community.
“You know and I know, and all those who are listening know, that without you, the business community, St. George would not be the city that it is today,” Baca said.
Joe Bowcutt, former manager of the Dixie Down Race Track, joked that, having spent 30 years in the “B.S.-ing field,” working in marketing and public relations, he is now ready to join the big leagues as a politician. Bowcutt said that he is proud of the way the current city government operates.
“We have not become a great city by electing scoundrels and no-gooders in there,” he said, “we have a lot of great people in our city.”
Tara Dunn, who runs the Kindermusik program at The Learning Center for Families in St. George, focused on her experiences as a small business owner, as well as her background in social work.
“After my second child was born, I quit working for somebody else in order to start my own business,” she said. “I ended up with two music studios and taught music at a Montessori school as well.” Dunn said that she gave up her real estate broker’s license when she first decided to run for public office in 2011.
“I’d like to see that we have people going in that aren’t conflicted,” Dunn said., “that’s important to me.”
Michele Randall, before she began talking about what brought her into the city council race, felt that it was necessary to address the “elephant in the room.” Randall has been the subject of social media chatter this week after state Sen. Steve Urquhart made accusations on Facebook that Dixie Ambulance Service, a company that Randall co-owned and co-managed, attempted to defraud the state by improperly obtaining grant money from the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services in 2012.
“One thing I want to make crystal clear,” Randall said, “is that my husband and I, and my parents, have never committed fraud, or wanted to commit fraud, or thought about committing fraud.”
Randall also responded to suggestions by Urquhart that her motivation for running for City Council was to restore Dixie Ambulance’s license, which was revoked after a state audit last year.
“On Apr. 14, Dixie Ambulance closed its doors and that ship left the harbor that day, never to return,” she said. “I am not running for City Council to bring Dixie Ambulance back.”
The questions at the Chamber of Commerce forum largely involved issues important to the local economy.
Asked what factor, in his estimation, primarily drives the local economy, Joe Bowcutt said it is the Washington County Economic Development Committee, a group tasked by the counties and constituent municipalities with attracting new businesses to St. George.
“They have done an outstanding job in bringing a good economy to our area,” Bowcutt said “The main engine (for economic growth) we have right now, and will be for years, is tourists or events,” he said. “(Events such as the St. George Marathon and Senior Games) bring thousands of people, millions of dollars, and we just tell them thank you, and then they leave.”
Dunn said that she believes that small businesses are what primarily drive the local economy.
“What we want,” Dunn said, “is to have a diversified local economy and have businesses that are bringing money from outside of our city, into our city. We want to have businesses such as software engineering, light manufacturing and, absolutely, tourism.”
Dunn turned to statistics to illustrate the impact of tourism on the economy.
“Tourism brings, I believe, about $80 per person per day into our local economy when people come to our area to visit,” she said.
Randall said that keeping taxes under control allows businesses to thrive in St. George.
“We need to make sure we maintain a low tax rate for businesses,” she said. “That helps our businesses keep our tax rate down. Also a strong workforce. We need a strong workforce here to help with those businesses.”
Baca said that it’s the free market that drives the local economy.
“We need to have government stay out of the way as much as possible, and that includes the local government,” Baca said.
He also highlighted the importance of economic diversity. “We have to go beyond just construction and real estate and service outlets.” Baca said that he would like to see a strong industrial economy balanced with a strong commercial economy.
“By that, I mean things going on downtown,” Baca said. “We need to have a flagship that would allow businesses to thrive in the downtown area.”
Early voting for the City Council election begins next week on Tuesday. The general election will be held on Nov. 5.
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