ST. GEORGE – Questions of budget priorities, road funding and primary concerns for the city were put before St. George City Council and mayoral candidates at Dixie State University Wednesday.
With the general election just weeks away, the candidate forum was hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce providing St. George and Washington City municipal candidates the opportunity to share their take on various issues put forth by the moderator.
St. George mayoral candidates featured at Wednesday’s forum included incumbent Jon Pike and challenger Lane Ronnow, along with City Council incumbent Joe Bowcutt and challengers Gregg McArthur and Greg Aldred. Incumbent Councilwoman Michele Randall was unable to attend due to illness.
The general election is Nov. 7.
The first question offered to the candidates asked what they feel should be the city’s budgeting priority.
The majority of the city’s general fund – around 63 percent – goes to services that help maintain the quality of life in St. George, Bowcutt said. Those services include public works, public safety and leisure services, among others. Those services should continue to be prioritized, he said.
“Do we have enough money? No,” Bowcutt said. “We will never have enough, but we must allocate it to the best of our ability.”
McArthur agreed that the services that make St. George a great place to “live, work and play” should be a priority. He also noted he holds a degree in finance and has had experience working with Merrill Lynch. This makes him “very qualified” when it came to dealing with budgets, he said.
Police and emergency services are a priority to Aldred. He said more needs to be done to recruit police officers and emergency services personnel. He also pointed to a need for better infrastructure funding.
“There’s never going to be enough money if you’re going to waste it,” Ronnow said, adding that he was able to take a nonprofit from being $1 million in debt to having $5 million in the bank.
“There’s always enough money if you know how to manage it,” he said.
Pike said the city is very well managed and fiscally sound. He mentioned certain city service funds that have surpluses though also noted that state law caps how much surplus can be had in those funds.
Pike said his priority is public safety, and that the city is rolling out a new recruiting program to attract certified police officers.
The candidates were then asked what their biggest concerns are for the city.
McArthur said it is the perpetual issue of growth and development, noting his current involvement in commercial development as a part of NAI Excel.
“Everybody’s out there to make a buck, and there’s a lot of things people want to do,” McArthur said. “I want to make sure that we preserve the city. I want to make sure that as we make decisions, as we develop moving forward, that we make the right decisions.”
He also said there needs to be more affordable housing in the city.
“I think that is something that is very important for us.”
Aldred agreed with McArthur on the affordable housing issue, adding that they aren’t referring to subsidized, low-income housing but housing for the city’s general work force. He said the lack of housing is adding to a labor shortage in the city that will just get worse if not addressed soon.
“We have to have that labor force and a route to live here, or we’re going to lose them,” he said.
Bowcutt brought up water and the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“It’s a crucial situation we’re facing here,” he said, voicing his support for the pipeline project while adding he believes there should be aid from the state and federal levels in funding it.
Increasing jobs and wages are among Pike’s concerns, and he pointed to Tech Ridge, the future home of a highly-anticipated technology business and development park, as a way those concerns are being addressed.
“It will create a critical mass of employees,” Pike said. Technology companies that move to Tech Ridge are projected to create high-paying jobs for the area.
Pike said he is also concerned about creating more affordable workforce housing and that several hundred units are actually being built over the next 18 months.
“That will make a significant difference,” he said.
Ronnow listed many concerns with code enforcement and how the city is managed at the forefront. Affordable housing is also an issue, as is the Lake Powell Pipeline, though he said it is too early to take sides on the pipeline without more information.
Road and transportation funding was the next question topic for the candidates.
With Proposition 1 – a ballot measure that would have allowed the county to add a 0.25 percent sales on nonfood items for road infrastructure funding – being shot down by the voters last year, what do the candidates intend to do about future funding needs?
“We’ll have to do the best with what we have,” Pike said.
As a result of Proposition 1 being voted down, the growth of SunTran, the city’s public transit system, will be greatly slowed, Pike said. City officials are working with the Legislature on possible ways to increase mass transit funding, he added.
Ronnow said the city could use its surplus funds to pay for mass transit expansion and road care instead of seeking to raise taxes.
“We need to solve problems with fiscal management,” he said, “not just throwing money at things.”
Pike said the surplus funds are used for one-time expenditures and it would be “very imprudent” to use them to fund ongoing projects and services.
As for the tax hike Proposition 1 proposed, the citizens of the county spoke with their voted and killed it, Pike said, so it’s done.
Aldred said he wasn’t a big fan of Proposition 1. Instead of raising taxes, he wants to see future development pay for road care through impact fees and other means. He also suggested that road maintenance be privatized and done by local companies as a way to save money.
St. George paved roads – all 370 miles of them – continually need new funding avenues as the cost of maintenance continues to climb, Bowcutt said.
“We hope we can find another (funding) source,” he said.
McArthur said he also had issues with Propositions 1, yet added he is in favor of preserving and updating the city’s road infrastructure.
The general election is Nov. 7. Mail-in ballots are being sent to homes across the state and early voting begins Oct. 24.
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