ST. GEORGE – Views toward a potential highway interchange and how to promote a better business environment were addressed by Washington City Council candidates during a political forum Wednesday.
Three of the five city council candidates – incumbent Kurt Ivie and challengers Doug Ward and Douglas Dennett – appeared at a forum hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce held at Dixie State University Wednesday. The remaining candidates, incumbent Garth Nisson and Daniel Cluff, were unable to attend.
A topic of prime concern to downtown residents in Washington City is the possibility of a highway interchange from Interstate 15 reaching into the residential heart of the city.
An interchange in that area has been pointed to by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization as a possible solution for congestion issues at the Green Springs/Exit 10 interchange.
The Dixie MPO itself is made up of transportation planners and civic officials from the county and municipalities who plan for the county’s transportation needs.
However, residents worry an off-ramp from the interchange into the residential area will destroy the character of downtown Washington City, negatively impact property values and cause safety issues.
Ward, a manager with Andrus Transportation, who has previous expressed his opposition to the interchange idea, reiterated his position during the forum.
“I think it will hurt our community and our entire area,” he said, adding that downtown Washington City is a walkable community and should stay that way.
People should also feel like their City Council is protecting their general interests, Ward said.
Incumbent Kurt Ivie, a school teacher and business owner, said he also opposes the interchange idea, but possibly for different reasons.
“I just don’t see that (an interchange) would mitigate the traffic,” Ivie said.
Extending Main Street north to the Northern Corridor – if that ever happens – would be a more palatable solution, he said.
Ivie supports the idea of a mandatory commercial trucking route that would route trucks away from Exit 10.
Douglas Dennett also opposes the interchange, and wondered why one wasn’t considered and built when the nearby underpass was constructed in St. George.
While not present at the forum, both Nisson and Cluff have also previously mentioned their opposition to the proposed interchange.
Other questions asked of candidates at the forum were largely interrelated as they addressed how Washington City could promote better relations with business owners and the oversight the candidates felt the City Council had over city employees.
“It’s tough to work in Washington City,” Dennett said “It’s not a friendly place.”
Dennett, who owns Dennett Construction, said he and follow contractors have not had the best experiences in dealing with members of the city staff. And unlike City Council members who can be voted out if the public doesn’t like what they are doing, it isn’t as easy to get rid of a city employee, he said.
“I think it starts with the staff,” he said. “They really run the city.”
The city needs people in positions who know what they are doing and are easier to work with, Dennett said.
“We do have some issues in Washington,” Ward said, “but we don’t need to pick on city employees.”
Ward said he would promote a culture of change within the city that would have to start at the top with the City Council. Part of this would involve creating a better understanding of the residents and businesses in the area, which would in turn create better outreach between the city government and the community.
Due to the city’s continuing growth, however, city employees are also asked to do more and more with less and less, Ivie said.
“While the city has increased by thousands, (city staff) has increased by ones and twos,” he said, adding it has also been a challenge to keep quality employees due to better job offers elsewhere. Other cities have increased their staffs’ wages as a way to try and prevent this, he said.
Ivie also said the right people need to be doing the right jobs. Someone who may like the outdoors but is working inside should probably be shifted to something outdoor-related while someone who has great customer service skills may need to be put in a position where those skills can be put to the best use.
Those skills need to be recognized and shifted to the right place, Ivie said.
Jon Palmer, who was originally listed as a council candidate, has withdrawn from the council race, according to the Washington City website’s elections page.
The primary election is set for Aug. 15, with early voting starting Aug. 1.
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