Washington City candidates focus on business growth, improving city-citizen relations

WASHINGTON CITY – Washington City mayoral and city council candidates discussed attracting new business and improving city-citizen relations during a forum held in Coral Canyon Thursday.

Hosted by the Coral Canyon Homeowners Association, mayoral candidates Ken Neilson and Sherrie Reeder and council candidates Bill Hudson and Daylene Ure addressed why they believed they should be elected or re-elected to municipal office.

Incumbent Mayor Ken Neilson, who was only able to attend the forum for a limited time due to other obligations, announced to prospective voters the city had just experienced its best quarter of sales tax revenue ever. The announcement was related to news that the city’s commercial base was growing, something which all the candidates said is a focus of their campaigns.

“There is growth there,” Neilson said, and mentioned potential future commercial development at Exit 13, an area he is eager to see new business move into. He also wants to promote new business in the downtown area, particularly where the ill-fated Washington Tower once stood.

As for why he should be re-elected, Neilson pointed to improvements made to city infrastructure during his time as mayor, such as the widening of Telegraph and other streets. He also pointed to 30 years of experience in executive management positions and overseeing budgets as things that helped him in this role as mayor, and would continue to benefit the city if voted in for a second term.

“We have a lot to offer in Washington,” mayoral challenger Reeder said. As a small business owner who oversees the corn maze at Staheli Farm, Reeder said she has had to jump through hoops when dealing with the city, and that it saddens her when other business owners tell her they were treated poorly by the city. “We need to be more workable,” Reeder said.

Reeder said she will bring a “different energy” to the municipal government as mayor and will work to make the government more approachable for citizens and business-friendly. She also hopes to spur more volunteer activity among city residents.

With a background in running large companies, city council candidate Ure said she was passionate about commerce and also wanted to see more of a commercial base so property taxes can remain low. She also said Exit 13 is a hot spot for potential commercial development, as is the downtown area.

On the subject of economic development, city council candidate Hudson also wants to promote more business and activity downtown. There currently isn’t much there to attract people, he said. “There’s no reason to come downtown,” Hudson said. Bringing in more commercial, as well as a possible attraction of some sort, may help revitalize the area. He said he was in favor of creating a downtown business area similar to what St. George has.

“We have to try and make it easy for business to come in and then get out of the way,” Hudson said.

A member of the audience asked what Neilson would like to see changed in city government. The mayor said he would like the city to revisit its current sign ordinance, as it was something the city had “gotten freaky over” in relation to businesses using banners. This was a sentiment Reeder agreed with, adding that new businesses should be given a welcome kit detailing the city’s business-related ordinances and codes so business owner’s knows what to expect and what is expected in return.

Discussion of the sign ordinance led to talk of how the city could do better in relation to businesses and residents.

“I hear we’re not very easy to work with,” Reeder said, mentioning some difficulties there had been in the past related to dealing with city departments. As mayor, she said she hopes to promote a more open and approachable municipal government that unites the citizens rather then divides them. “It takes every single one of us to build a community,” she said.

The city needs to “get some real costumer service training,” Hudson said, noting his professional background is in sales and that customers are generally put off by crabby staff.  He added one of the reasons he ran for city council was because is seemed the previous council was ignoring the people it answered too. After being elected, he said he pushed for change, and has been successful in getting some city departments to change how they do things.

Ure said she felt the city council itself could use a change of perspective in how it runs the city, a change she promises to bring if elected.

Concerns were raised about a segment of Telegraph Road north of Washington Parkway that goes up a hill with steep drops off on the eastern side. Last week a 16-year-old female driving southbound was killed when her car went off the road and rolled to the bottom of the hill. Though the Washington City Police Department has yet to release any official details concerning the cause of the crash, audience members at the forum implied that a dip in the road near where the accident was may have contributed to the fatality in some way.

“It’s being worked on,” Neilson said, adding it was also “a matter of funding.”

“It’s an over a million dollar project,” Hudson added.

While it may take a short while to get started, he said the city is addressing the issue.

City Council candidates Thad Seegmiller (incumbent) and Garth Nisson were not present at the forum Thursday evening.

The general election is Nov. 5.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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