Growth, public transit, a new interchange? Washington City Council candidates speak to issues

2017 Washington City Council candidates from L-R, top row: Incumbents Kurt Ivie and Garth Nission; bottom row: Douglas Ward and Daniel Cluff. | Composite image by St. George News

WASHINGTON CITY – With the municipal election drawing near, St. George News has reached out to Washington City Council candidates for their take on the issues facing their community.

Running for a seat on the City Council are the following: Douglas Ward, director of information services at Andrus Transportation; Daniel Cluff, middle school science teacher; and incumbents Garth Nisson, a former family business owner; and Kurt Ivie, an elementary school teacher, coach and business owner.

Following are the candidates’ answers, as received by email and without edit, to four questions St. George News presented them.

Q:  What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing your city, and how do you plan to address it as a member of the City Council?

Douglas Ward

The most pressing issue facing our city is the proposed Exit 11 freeway off-ramp. Our City Council, without discussing it in a public hearing or voting on it, allowed city employees to pursue a freeway off-ramp into a completely residential neighborhood. I have read the contract, met with UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) officials, city officials, the engineering firm, questioned other state transportation officials and gone to the meetings. Using all my experience gained from years of in management in the business world I can tell you I have never see a crazier or more heartless approach to solving a problem.

I plan on fixing this by undoing the limitations imposed on the current study so we can fix our neglected transportations issues like the poor access to Green Springs area and save an important part of our city.

Daniel Cluff

Growth. According to a recent news article, by 2065 Washington County is anticipated to experience cumulative growth of roughly 229 percent, meaning that our county would have a population of more than 500,000 residents.

Growth needs to be responsible and respectful to the current citizens of Washington City as much as the future citizens of Washington City. Improper management of growth will strain our first response services, deplete and abuse our infrastructure, and leave citizens with increased financial responsibility to fix poor planning.

Garth Nisson

The most pressing issue facing Washington City in my opinion is rapid or explosive growth. The consequences of growth intended or unintended are enormous. The City must meet the challenges and rewards of growth with all that the City provides. Services such as water, sewer, power, road construction, and public safety are huge issues for the City and all are top priorities. I think also the City must maintain existing facilities including parks and trails.

I will if re-elected address this issue with common sense, being reasonable and prudent with any decision I make on the council. Funding or lack of funding is always the biggest obstacle in any discussion and we do what we can with what’s available. The City must stretch those available dollars to the limit. Encouraging new business if it’s in the right location and helping existing business is another way I can help increase and stabilize funding. I am a supporter of Washington City’s 5 year strategic plan.

Kurt Ivie

Growth – Washington is one of the fastest growing cities in the entire country. (43,236 by 2030) Growth brings economic opportunity that in turn, generates the funds needed for future development. Unsustainable growth, negatively affects roads, utilities, and recreation, as well as parks, trails and open space. This is why it is very important to stay ahead of infrastructure needs.

The key to preparing for future growth is to not over reach the infrastructure. This also insures that our residents are minimally impacted. Developers for the most part, pay for the improvements of their projects. Up-grades to systems in anticipated growth is the city’s responsibility. Our city does a tremendous job in meeting the demands.

Current and proposed Federal and State regulations that inhibit our cities ability to administer to our specific needs and interests.

I will continue to have active, meaningful communication with our legislators. I will attend the Legislative session at the capital and utilize the Utah League of Cities and Towns. I will encourage our residents to reach out to legislators with their interests and concerns. We have a very good relationship with our local legislators. They all work hard to support our interests down south.

Employees – Attract and retain qualified desirable employees. In a competitive work environment it is crucial to offer pay and benefits to retain our much appreciated city employees and attract new employees. Police officers and fire fighters are a specific area of demand.

Q: In recent years attempts have been made to bring public transit to downtown Washington City. Unfortunately this has fallen short due to a lack of needed funding. What goals do you have for public transit in Washington City and how would you go about funding it?

Douglas Ward

I would love to have been involved with this the first time around and truly know why it fell apart. I understand from talking to citizens the growing need and would like to reevaluate why the partnership with Sun Trans couldn’t work for the benefit of all. I would love to work towards a better relationship with our sister cities. To be clear, I think we should be looking at an entry level system that partners with existing systems targeted to critical populations.

I feel confident that a solution exists that doesn’t include Washington going out and purchasing a fleet of old buses. In general, I would seek to improve our working relationship with our citizens, our neighboring cities, our Chamber of Commerce and our local businesses.

Daniel Cluff

According to the Sun Tran Manger that I talked with, every dollar we invest in public transportation, four dollars is inserted back into the tax base of the system by helping citizens get access to jobs that they could not get to before. It also facilitates workers who prefer public transportation over private transportation when it comes to going to and from occupation and shopping districts.

There are few things we can invest in that increase our tax base, I support transportation. I recognize that it would cost $253,000 to start and 12,000 a month to maintain after our primary investment, but it is so valuable to our growing community.

Garth Nisson

My goals for public transportation are that I think it’s definitely coming to Washington City and I’m a supporter of it. I think though the timing has to be right we as a City have to approach this issue very slowly and cautiously. We have to have the necessary funding and not put a huge burden on our residents to subsidize the service. We must get commitments from adjacent Cities to work with their wants and needs also.

Funding should be sought after with any avenue available for this service because it is needed or will be needed. This is a very costly commitment and raising taxes to cover it is not fair to majority of residents. Ridership must be near full capacity to make any sense at all , so many studies are needed.

Kurt Ivie

My goal is to bring a transit loop as part of a regional system into core areas of Washington. Achieving critical mass to sustain a Washington City bus route is best achieved through the existing Sun Tran system, as an extension of routes into Washington that would likely originate from Deseret Industries with stops at locations that are accessible and convenient for those residents that have the need or desire to ride the bus. Bus routes could ease congestion at our busy intersections, provide a service for our elderly residents, handicapped persons and those that don’t drive, as well as providing options for residents that would find riding a bus economically prudent.

Funding would be possible through the Federal Transit Authority that distributes federal dollars for local transit needs in two ways:

  • Operating and Maintenance costs are matched to our cities funds at a rate of 50 percent
  • Capital Purchases (Busses) are matched to our cities funds at a rate of 80 percent

Washington City would be responsible for their portion of the matched funds. Those monies would come from the general fund, taxes, sponsorship from local businesses, advertising and ridership.

The most promising option for a route into Washington in the near future would be as part of a regional route that would run from St. George to Springdale, with stops along Telegraph Street.

Q: With Washington City continuing to grow, it has stretched and stressed parts of the city budget. What do you feel should be funding priorities within the city? Are there public services provided by the city that could privatized instead?

Douglas Ward

Growth is coming; the question is will we grow gracefully and be proactive or will we allow a lack of planning to cost us our best attributes nullifying the reasons people love this area? Many other cities would love to have the assets we have. As I have met with many city residents, I have felt their deep frustration that our city representatives seem far more interested in defending the city instead of strongly advocating for the citizens.

The budget will be one of my key tool to realign our city with the values of its citizens. My critical thinking and ability to understand complex issues are key to parsing the minutia of budgeting to get to the essence. I am no stranger to dealing with departments and their differing priorities. I would be open to using private contracts and partnerships with other government entities to meet the needs of our citizens & community.

Daniel Cluff

We need responsible growth and leadership to improve this. I am grateful for the business district off of exit 10 and the tax base it affords us. Bringing in money from visitors off of I-15 is a huge benefit to our community. I would like to see the city discuss innovative efforts to create the same business boost to exit 13. It has spent to many years with a lone gas station, I would like to see it grow into another commercial district.

I would like to see our city spend money on infrastructure that is strained now, such as exit 10, instead of investing in another off-ramp that will benefit future growth and ignore current issues. As per public services that could be privatized, I hope that we take the effort and time to evaluate what we have and what is working before we focus on replacing it.

Garth Nisson

My funding priorities have always been No. 1 public safety and others include infrastructure construction and planned maintenance on the infrastructure. Maintaining top notch qualified staff working for the City is another priority. There is always room for improvement in any organization and the council and staff should strive to improve. Privatizing some of the City’s services is always an option and should be looked at on occasion for some cost savings.

I think we should be cautious though about this because private companies also could have negativities that can show up once under contract. The City must do everything in its power to get the most effective value for every dollar spent.

Kurt Ivie

Washington City is the fourth lowest taxed city in Washington County and Washington County is the lowest taxed county in the state of Utah. It is necessary to plan and account for every dollar. Our general fund is scrutinized with great detail. Knowing this, my budget priorities are as follows:

  • Exit 10 (Green Springs) congestion that creates safety concerns on I-15 as well as for local commuters, delays- especially for those traveling to or from Green Springs or Buena Vista and impedes commerce at our local businesses.
  • Restructuring our city’s pay schedule as to be in line with the surrounding municipalities to retain and attract qualified desirable individuals to work for the city.
  • Develop a secondary irrigation water system, to lessen the burden on culinary water, that would not need treatments, making it cheaper to buy and more plentiful to use.
  • Provide all the necessary gear and equipment to keep our Police Officers, Fire Fighters and Public Works as safe as possible.
  • Initiate the active transportation plan. To create a much more pedestrian and bicycle friendly infrastructure across the city over the next several years.

Public Services are just that – Public Services. To privatize them would steal away part of the original identity and intent. The Cotton Mill was constructed in 1856. It has served as a place for residents to gather and a city was built around it. There were many pioneer families that would have left the area due to hardships, if it wasn’t for the Cotton Mill. It never made a profit but it stands today as a testament to our heritage.

Q: Potential for a highway exit being placed somewhere between Exits 10 and 13 on Interstate 15 has caused a measure of controversy and divisiveness among some Washington City residents. Where do you stand on the potential interchange and the environmental assessment study that could recommend it? What type of alternatives to the interchange would you support?

Douglas Ward

We don’t want to be known as the only city in Utah with an off-ramp into a residential neighborhood especially when so many alternatives exist. I favor fixing exit 10 (which will need to be done ether way) and connecting exit 13 to both the Southern Parkway and the Northern Corridor, among a litany of other more humane and better solution.

These solutions have been withheld from the current study. New blood is going to be required, the same people who allowed this to happen are not going to be able to fix it. I have already begun to establish the network and connections we will need and will finish it from a council seat. I am not just saying I am against a downtown off-ramp, I can’t rest with this hanging over the old town residence knowing what a stain it will put upon our city.

If you believe you are fighting for your home your vote will not be wasted on me. I appreciate the wave of empathy shown by citizens of other areas for the plight of the old town residence. Love thy neighbor is an admiral virtue. I truly believe I can come up with a solution we can all be proud of. What is the motivation of those who are pushing this? Why has it been handled this way? My motive is solely the preservation people’s homes and community. Thank you for engaging in this election.

Daniel Cluff

If it is used to improve exit 10, I am for it. If it is used for an off-ramp, I am against it. Do we need 4 off-ramps within 5 Miles I-15?  Washington City’s General Plan states that our downtown  “shall balance traffic efficiency with pedestrian-friendliness and commercial objectives. I do not feel an off-ramp represents that vision. If you read our general plan, page 3, policies 5 and 6, you will find the offense that so many have against this project. “”5. A development proposal in conflict with the general plan should not be supported unless there are special circumstances and a clear justification for deviation” and “6. Major Deviations from the General Plan require that the General Plan be reviewed and amended in advance through a public hearing process.”

Garth Nisson

My position on the traffic environmental study is in two parts. I’m for the study and I think we need it for the traffic concerns and rapid growth of the area . Part two My position on the possible exits between I-10 and I-13 on Main Street or 300 east should have never been included in the study. The residents in this area of the study and rightly so do not want or need an exit through their City Center. Main Street in particular will become extremely busy anyway with all the development of Brio and the northern corridor. I don’t know how I could state it any stronger, I am totally against exits between Exit 10 and 13.

I think the study could show some possible solutions to some of concerns of increased traffic. The Northern Corridor and additional belt-loops could be used to alleviate some traffic problems. I also think there will ideas and solutions that will naturally come in the future that can’t be envisioned now. Finally the City’s Exit 13 is our relief valve for Exit 10 and is only 3 miles away which in today’s world isn’t that far. It can handle a lot of traffic.

Traffic is the major issue for any city and as residents and City officials of Washington City it must be addressed.

Kurt Ivie

We recognize that we have a traffic congestion problem at Exit #10 (Green Springs). In an effort to mitigate and plan for future growth in this corridor, a study has been implemented by U.D.O.T, to explore, study and identify all options that are available as improvements to the congestion.

This would include, but is not limited to, the possible widening and reconfiguration of Buena Vista Boulevard, connecting Exit 10 to Exit 13 via Washington Parkway, Northern Corridor completion (that looks very promising). Main Street connection to Washington Parkway, possible designated truck routes and any other ideas from citizens that may come forward during the process of the study.

This study is required to get funding for any identified proposals.

For example, if it’s determined that the widening of Buena Vista Boulevard is a viable option, we couldn’t get state of federal funding without this study being done.

Potentially a future off ramp could be forced upon us without our involvement.

As a councilman I feel a great responsibility to preserve and protect all citizens and businesses in our community and their quality of life. I would consider an off ramp as a last option.

Mayoral candidates

Washington City is also holding an election for mayor this year, with two-term incumbent Mayor Ken Neilson being challenged by Ben Leamon Martinsen, who has served on the Washington City Planning Commission for many years.

Read more: Mayoral candidates share thoughts on issues facing Washington City

Meet the candidates

Washington City residents have the opportunity to meet  City Council  and mayoral candidates at two meet-and-greet forums in October:

  • The first forum will be held Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. at Riverside Elementary, 2500 S Harvest Lane, in Washington City.
  • The second forum will be held Oct. 27, at 6 p.m., at the Washington City Community Center, 350 N. Community Center Drive, in Washington City.

The general election is Nov. 7.

Ed. note: This article has been updated to include the entirety of Daniel Cluff’s answer to the question of a proposed highway interchange in downtown Washington City.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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5 Comments

  • Foxyheart September 30, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    “Douglas Ward
    “The most pressing issue facing our city is the proposed Exit 11 freeway off-ramp. Our City Council, without discussing it in a public hearing or voting on it, allowed city employees to pursue a freeway off-ramp into a completely residential neighborhood. I have read the contract,…..”

    Like I said before, it is an already done deal, people. They are not listening to you, they will do their own thing. Doug said there is a contract…..it is a done deal.

  • tcrider September 30, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Doug Ward you got my vote, and if your elected I hope
    a priority will be firing the city employees that initiated the study for insubordination
    it is definitely not a done deal like some of the idiots write, let the developers cronies that
    are trying to influence the plan go to exit 13 where it was suppose to go in the first place.

  • beacon October 1, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Several candidates mentioned the Northern Corridor as a way of dealing with their growth and transportation problems. The Northern Corridor will not solve Washington City’s problems. It will at best be a Band-Aid and transportation planners will just come back for more money for more road work in the future. When this county is around 300,000 in 2030 when the NC is completed according to transportation plans, the road will be too close to St. George city center to provide much relief there and Washington City won’t be helped either. The Southern Corridor is much further from St. George city center and the Northern Corridor should be too. Transportation planners and leaders have been selling the Northern Corridor ideas for over 10 years and it’s a flawed plan that needs to be reworked. Wasting tax dollars on a road that won’t make much difference is throwing money away. This area will always have transportation problems. It’s the nature of the beast. If people think they’re going to avoid that as this area grows, they are deluding themselves.

  • utahdiablo October 1, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    No Mention of the upcoming Water Park that is going to completly screw over that entire area using culinary water? Vision Dixie, ever heard of that? No? Uncontrolled growth is already happening, you lost, and it’s already too late….as mentioned before, you only “Think” you have a voice in what happens in the future…..you do not

    • Law24 October 1, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      The water park is not Washington’s problem – the plan is to build it within St. George City limits.

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