ST. GEORGE — There wasn’t much disagreement had between candidates for Ivins City mayor and council during a candidate forum held Monday night.
Candidates present at the forum held at the Lava Ridge Intermediate School included mayoral candidates Andy Appel and incumbent Chris Hart, as well as City Council candidates Mike Scott and Lance Anderson and incumbents Derek Larsen and Cheyne McDonald.
Though there were some exceptions, the candidates found common ground on topics related to a proposed reservoir in the Kayenta area and the city’s water needs, enforcing city code, the recently passed lighting ordnance and the Black Desert Resort.
The candidates were each given a minute to respond to questions submitted ahead of time from members of the community, which allowed candidates to prepare their answers ahead of time.
The proposed reservoir
One of the biggest topics of the evening was a reservoir the Washington County Water Conservancy District has proposed to build in the Kayenta area of Ivins. While the candidates appeared in favor of the city getting more water to address its own water needs, the exact placement of the reservoir was an issue.
There have been worries the water district could use eminent domain to take possession of land otherwise slated for potential residential development in order to get construction going. On top of that, water district officials have said the area they are eyeing has already undergone environment reviews about its suitability for reservoir use. However, those reviews expire in 2024 if the reservoir is not under substantial construction. If that happens, a new set of reviews could take up to 10 years to complete.
The reservoir, wherever is it placed, is also seen as critical part of a secondary, or irrigation quality water system the city is considering in order to help save on its culinary, or drinking quality water which is currently used for indoor and outdoor watering needs. This is an issue, city officials have said, that needs to be addressed soon, as the ability to deliver that water is going to be overtaken by the city’s future growth.
“I definitely am in favor of a reservoir in or near Ivins, but not necessarily Kayenta,” Hart said, yet added, “Ivins ran out of its own water 20-plus years ago.”
The city gets its culinary water from a pipeline out of the Quail Creek water treatment plant supplied by the water district. That pipeline doesn’t have the needed capacity to supply the additional water the city needs, so an alternative need to be found.
That alternative has been explored in a study initiated last year looking into the construction of the city’s own water treatment plant as part of an overall secondary water system estimated to run up to $30 million.
The reservoir is seen as a place to store and supply the water needed for that system. If there’s no place to store that water, then there really is no point to wasting money on the secondary water system, Hart said.
“The other option is we decide we’re not going to grow anymore,” Hart said, and while some people may very well like that, the city’s budget is based on a measure of growth. If that is lost, there will likely be a rise is property taxes to make up for the loss, he said.
Anderson, who sits on the Ivins Planning Commission and is also the manager for Kayenta Development Inc, said the water the city is planning on is for future growth and not for the citizens currently living there.
During a September council meeting, Anderson stated that “we’ve been fighting the reservoir” at its proposed location. Kayenta still plans to develop homes in the area until they see the water district made a definite move on the spot. During Monday’s forum, he expressed support for a new reservoir, though not the exact placement of it.
“Am I for the reservoir in Kayenta? It’s really in the middle of Ivins,” he said. “Kayenta is a community in Ivins. I think we need to have public opinion and find out what you guys think about it.”
Is Kayenta the best spot? Anderson said he is engaged with other studies to find out if it really is or not and hopes to have answers soon.
Both Lewis and McDonald said they deferred to the county water district’s opinion on the matter as its people are the “water experts.” Scott said he wanted to see studies on the location supposedly pursued by the city in recent months, yet also stressed action needed to be taken on the issue sooner rather than later.
Appel also said he supports the need for the reservoir and more water for the city, but believes it should be left to the land owners to decide what happens regarding the location. The property rights of land owners should be fairly considered and compensated accordingly, he added.
Each candidate agreed: the product of many months of debate and fine-tuning by the Ivins City Council, the recently passed lighting ordinance strikes a balanced compromise between safety and preserving the city’s night sky.
McDonald, who has served on the City Council for 12 years now, said a challenge of the ordinance was the misinformation about it spread over social media and among the community. He also said he didn’t like everything in the ordinance, but also understood he’s not on the council to enforce his opinion.
“I recognize that I don’t represent just my views or the people who believe my views,” McDonald said. “I represent all points of view, and we needed to find a balance, and I think the lighting ordnance finds that balance.”
McDonald’s response drew applause from forum attendees.
Black Desert Resort and a need for added commercial development
A question of whether the candidates support the idea of subsidizing private developers through means such as tax incentive zones was also asked. This was a controversial issue initially tied to the incoming Black Desert golf resort that had asked for public funding in the form of frozen property taxes and bonds that could spur up to $40 million needed for the project.
The City Council rejected that proposal and the Black Desert developers moved on to create what is called a public infrastructure district, or PID, in which people who buy homes and property within the districts pay added property taxes to fund improvements within that district.
“I was all in favor of Black Desert’s use of that tool because of what the city gains from using that tool.” Larsen said. “It’ll bring in a much nicer development that will bring in more tax revenue in the city.”
The city needs that commercial tax base via sales tax to help fund city operations in case the growth the area has experienced slows, Larsen said. If there isn’t a large sales tax base, than the city falls back on property taxes for the funding it needs.
“We have to have a tax base so we don’t have to raise property taxes,” he said.
Appel said he did not support subsidies for private developers, yet also said he understood there are cases where they made sense.
Scott, shared the same view, and while supporting Black Desert’s move to go for a PID which the city approved, he said he also believes such a district is meant more to rejuvenate a blighted area and not build up a new development. Such development tools should also be used sparingly in the future, he added.
One of the questions posed by the public was about unfair code enforcement within the city.
The majority of the candidates said the city needs its code enforcement, yet how the city enforces that code needs to be done in a fair and compassionate way. City officials should also be willing to work with the residents on the issue, and if necessary, change or repeal code that doesn’t make sense.
A particular point two of the candidates – McDonald and Larsen – agreed on was a dislike of a someone issuing a unanimous complaint to the city about a neighbor’s alleged code violation.
Scott added that there were generally three reasons why violations occur, and that being “heavy-handed” is not how those issues should be rectified.
Those three reasons are: a general lack of knowledge about the city code, a lack of knowledge on how to solve the potential violation, or a likely financial problem preventing a resident from addressing the issue.
“Whenever the city identifies a code violation, it shouldn’t be heavy-handed,” he said “It should work in a cooperative way and provide information on ways to solve the problem and the time to do it.”
As for the potential of unfair enforcement, Appel said he believes there are longtime and well-connected residents the city tends to be more lenient on when it comes to code violations.
“I do think, in general, that the city does do a good job in enforcing the code, but there are a lot of people that have lived here a long time, that may have some better connections that the city might bend to a little more for than others,” Appel said.
“If there is a code, it’s a code. We abide by that. There should be a warning issued, and if that warning is not adhered to, a fine should be imposed, and I think that should be universal.”
Mail-in ballots will begin to be sent out the week of Oct. 12 with the general election taking place Nov. 2.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 election by clicking here.
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