ST. GEORGE — Although Tuesday’s election results will not be certified until Nov. 14, with outstanding and provisional ballots still being counted, the front runners have definite views on the future of St. George.
If the poll numbers stand, Councilman Jimmie Hughes, currently with 7,103 votes, will return for a third term.
“Eight years ago I was the brand new guy and now I’m the old guy,” Hughes said with a laugh.
It is no secret that St. George is growing, Hughes said, and with growth comes many challenges.
“Because we are growing so quickly our concern is how we plan the proper infrastructure along with making sure we have our transportation needs figured out,” he said.
Between the city’s growth and a lack of affordable housing, city officials say more needs to be done.
“There are a couple of things we can do as far as our master plan,” Hughes said. “One is to make sure we have adequate areas of high-density housing. This is the first place to look at without being heavy-handed. I’d like to see the opportunity for more attainable housing.”
To help tackle its affordable housing problems, the city has spearheaded the development of projects such as the 55-unit RiverWalk Village, a previously city-owned parcel of land that had been donated to Friends of Switchpoint, the nonprofit group that also runs the Switchpoint Community Resource Center.
“Adding to this project we have tried to be proactive and wave impact fees on projects that meet the criteria to make a difference,” Hughes said. “These are probably small drops in the bucket, but if you are out there working and trying to make ends meet we know housing is at a premium here.”
Linked to attainable housing are St. George’s wages, Hughes added.
“I believe we can help increase wages by attracting industries and businesses that pay what we call value-added, or a salary higher than the prevailing wage,” Hughes said. “Something higher than a poverty wage.”
It’s about expanding areas like Tech Ridge to attract companies and bring the jobs of the future to the city.
Another issue on the city council’s mind is not especially unique to St. George. It is the community’s dependence on the Virgin River Basin for its water needs, the primary source of water in Washington County.
While it is believed that water from this source is enough to sustain the county at its current estimated population of 171,000, it will not be enough to sustain the 500,000 projected for the county by 2065.
To alleviate some of the water shortage issues is the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline Project.
When completed, the 140-mile, 70-inch diameter pipeline will run from Lake Powell to the Sand Hollow Reservoir. The projected route will snake across the Utah and Arizona border and will be able to carry approximately 77 million gallons a day to 13 communities in Kane and Washington counties.
In addition to the pipeline, Hughes said he thinks St. George should explore other avenues of water conservation including taking advantage of the amount of water flowing from its water treatment facility.
“There is a lot of water there that is recycled and could be put back into reuse,” he said. “We’ve been trying to plan that as we put in future developments. We have the infrastructure in place to deliver that secondary water to where it’s needed.”
Conservation has also been a big component of St. George’s water usage.
“Where I might differ from some people is that I am not ready to tear up the trees and grass yet,” Hughes said. “I think we have a lot of other options we can look at before we start turning into towns like Tucson. I think it needs to be a combination of new water sources, conservation and reuse.”
Although only 306 votes ahead of her nearest competitor Ed Baca, Danielle Larkin, with 6,174 votes, is hopeful she will ultimately be sworn in as a council member on Jan. 6, 2020.
“It’s a five-member council, and it’s so important for us to work together and come to a consensus on issues,” Larkin said.
Larkin agreed with Hughes that one of the most “dire” needs of the city is attainable housing.
“This is something I hope we really focus on next year,” she said.
To achieve that goal, the city has developed a Moderate Income Housing Plan.
“Everything about this plan I love and I hope I get assigned to that committee,” Larkin said. “It’s about working in smart ways to create attainable housing.”
Other goals Larkin would like to see the council continue its focus on is quality of life and community issues.
“Both of these plays into everything else,” Larkin said. “They play into smart growth, protecting and promoting our downtown, and making sure there is support for our arts. Quality of life and community also plays a roll in our clean air, our water system, our active transportation. Long term health for our citizens and our land is a strong priority for me.”
A collaborative approach between city staff, the community and elected officials is critical in getting these goals accomplished, Larken said.
“This is the only way I can be successful,” she said.”I think this council is for and by the community and I don’t think I am smart enough to do it on my own.”
The final frontrunner, Gregg McArthur, with 7,068 votes, could not be reached for comment. According to his business partner, Greg Whitehead, McArthur learned of his lead Tuesday while standing atop the Great Wall of China.
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