ST. GEORGE – Effective planning for the future growth and having a more open dialogue between the city and its residents are among the issues St. George mayoral candidates addressed when discussing challenges facing the city.
Incumbent Jon Pike is seeking a second term as mayor and said he has developed the experience and relationships to help guide the city’s growth and prosperity for another four years.
Challenging Pike for the mayor’s seat is Lane Ronnow, host and executive producer of “A Story to Tell,” an interview program that often features members of the community and public officials.
Other facets of Ronnow’s background include work as a former director of of Salt Lake County’s building and zoning enforcement department. He has acted as the chief financial officer for school districts and housing authorities.
Ronnow said city officials need to a better job of taking citizen input into account while planning. City government also needs to be much more transparent and open, he said.
Concerning the issues presented by the city’s continued growth, Pike said a major challenge is keeping up with growing infrastructure needs. Issues related to roads, sewer, water, power and so forth need to be planned to not only support St. George, but surrounding communities as well.
“You need to plan for the city as well as regionally,” Pike said, and pointed to growth in neighboring Santa Clara and Ivins as an example. As those cities grow, their residents are likely to pass through St. George on a regular basis, so future planning needs to take this into account in addition to the city proper.
While Ronnow agrees that planning key, it must also be done with an ear to the desires and concerns of city residents.
“It appears that people have not had much of a say in the process,” Ronnow said. He also said there’s a lack of communication between city hall and the citizens overall.
Ronnow pointed to misunderstandings individuals tend to have over the city’s general plan as an example of poor communication.
A lot of people rely on the layout of the city’s general plan to give them an idea of what future construction in the city may look like. People looking to move to St. George will see an area zoned with large residential lots and build a home there believing the zoning will remain the same moving forward.
That isn’t always the case. A city’s general plan can be subject to changes as developers request general-plan amendments that can change the zoning of a particular area should the City Council approve it. Such actions can take city residents by surprise and is an example of the lack of communication between residents and the city, Ronnow said.
Another area of city-citizen disconnect that needs to be resolved is the city’s code enforcement system, Ronnow said. Particularly, he’s taken issue with how city codes have been enforced.
“Don’t go into someone’s backyard,” Ronnow said, referring to previous accusation of city code enforcement officers entering private property to look for violations. Some of the accusations have led to residents suing the city. That ongoing lawsuit has cost taxpayers $170,000, he said.
The city is reviewing and rewriting its ordinances with the help of a legal consultant, Pike said. The ultimate goal is to make the code more clear and concise and bring it into conformity with state law where needed.
Ronnow favors the creation of an independent commission made up of experienced managers and citizens who would review the city’s laws and regulations and make recommendations to code revisions – or elimination – where appropriate.
Both Pike and Ronnow agree that obsolete ordinances should be dropped from city code and that enforcement of current code should be uniform.
Pike said some code he would like to see loosened up relates to unregistered cars in someone’s driveway. As long as vehicles aren’t on blocks or the like, the city really shouldn’t have an issue with it, he said.
On code enforcement policy in general, the city needs to find a balance that it and the majority of residents can agree on, Pike said. However, as opinions on what does and does not make a good ordinance vary widely, coming to that middle ground isn’t an easy process, he said.
Other issues Pike addressed relate to job growth and bringing higher pay to St. George. While the city and local economic development groups have done well to bring in manufacturing-based business, a focus now is on recruiting and growing tech-based companies.
A major key will be working with the Washington County School District, Dixie State University and Dixie Applied Technology College to create a high-trained, tech-based workforce, Pike said.
Ronnow said the city needs better infrastructure planning, particularly where roads are concerned.
“We need to make sure the infrastructure can handle the increasing traffic,” he said.
Along with that planning, Ronnow said the city should maintain “an open mind and open ear” to its residents while moving forward.
“That’s the key – better communication,” Ronnow said, adding that he would bring that to city government if elected.
The general election is set for Nov. 7.
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