Hurricane — The candidates for Hurricane City Council recently met in a public forum at the Hurricane Fine Arts Center, revealing many similarities and a couple of differences among them.
The forum was hosted by the Hurricane Valley Chamber of Commerce and featured the four candidates for two open seats on the council: Brian Hawkins, Douglas Heideman, David Hirschi and Kevin Thomas.
Chamber president Nic Lauritzen was moderator at the forum. He read questions that had been emailed by Hurricane citizens for the event.
“We feel it’s important that the community get to know the candidates so that they can make the best and most informed decision possible,” Lauritzen told St. George News.
An unofficial count of attendees at the forum showed roughly 65 citizens in the audience.
“I loved the candidates, I loved their answers, their candor and just their honesty, I thought that was great,” Lauritzen said. “I was a little disappointed in our turnout. I felt like we could have had more show up and support them, but I think what matters most is the turnout in the polls.”
What follows is a summary of some of the topics discussed by the candidates and their comments, edited for clarity and brevity.
David Hirschi spoke first on the issue of affordable housing and stated the most common refrain among the candidates: the free market determines the cost of housing.
“As much as I would like to, I wish that we could say, ‘We need affordable housing so let’s build some housing that our children and grandchildren can move into,’ but I don’t think that’s the right answer,” Hirschi said.
He added that he also thinks high density housing is not the answer because “that causes problems with crime and lower income and things like that.”
Most importantly, Hirschi said that the answer lies within the Hurricane citizenry.
“I think issues like this need to be brought to the citizens,” Hirschi said. “I want everybody to feel like they can get a hold of me and give me the ideas that we need for things like this.”
Douglas Heideman said one answer is setting up special zones that allow for housing alternatives.
“I don’t mind if people are renting out their homes to younger couples or older couples,” Heideman said.
Another solution, he said, is to have more apartments.
“I’d like to see 12-15 unit apartments scattered throughout the community,” Heideman said. “Then when these people who move here, and they will be the low income type, they will absorb the culture of the neighborhood instead of dragging the neighborhood down.”
Heideman said he doesn’t see anything wrong with modular homes and that he thinks single and twin homes would help “people progress up the ladder.”
Kevin Thomas, who has served on the Hurricane City Council previously, said one of the first things he did as a former councilman was propose an ordinance “to make it legal to rent out a basement or a bonus room or a part of a home so you could make affordable housing for a couple or newlyweds.”
Thomas also suggested that Hurricane qualifies for a Housing and Urban Development program through which neighbors buy small lots and help each other buy homes.
“It builds on an affordable plan,” Thomas said. “They’re nice homes, they’re not square small boxes. You help the owner get a good price for the lot, and you help get fees and labor at a good price.”
Brian Hawkins said that the city government won’t be able to make everybody happy.
“We’re not going to supply affordable housing that’s going to be amazing for everybody,” Hawkins said.
He added that a solution is to inspire people to get higher education, better paying jobs and give them help to afford a house in Hurricane.
“Other than that there is no government solution, besides inspiring our children to be successful,” Hawkins said. “They can do anything they want as long as we keep telling them we don’t need to give them anything other than inspiration and the desire to grow.”
Recreation center and pool
In the general election of 2019, Hurricane citizens overwhelmingly rejected a $25 million bond that would have funded the construction of a new recreation center and pool.
At the forum, candidates were asked if they would reconsider building such a rec center and pool if there were different options available to pay for it.
Douglas Heideman stated that he’s done some research into rec centers around the state because “I really enjoy them, my kids do and my grandkids, too.”
Heideman found only one rec center, in Provo, that is breaking even.
“As far as my research showed, every other place is in the red and not making money,” Heideman said. He added that what takes up all the money at rec centers are the pools.
“My suggestion would be we build two or three rec centers around town but we don’t put an aquatic center into them,” Heideman said.
He said the county, school and city have funds that might be available.
“And we could add private funds that help finance it with those sources,” Heideman said.
Thomas said he’s a huge fan of swimming and he wants a big swimming pool. But the experience he had watching the bond failure is what got him interested in the proper role of government.
“It’s not our job as a government official to take from one group of people and give to another, and that’s what building a community center would be unless we get private funding,” Thomas said.
He added that he’d be all for a community center if it was paid for by sponsors and donations.
“I want one as bad as anyone,” Thomas said. “But I don’t want one dollar of taxes from anyone here to pay for it.”
Hawkins stated the opinion that a rec center wouldn’t need to be that expensive.
“I don’t think the youth really care about how extravagant this thing is,” Hawkins said. “Am I good for a community center? Yes. Are there limitations to it? Very big limitations.”
He went on to suggest that spending could be reduced in other areas in order to generate money for a rec center.
“I’m not saying there’s a solid answer, but it is not spending a ton of money,” Hawkins said.
Hirschi talked about how he was familiar with the rec center in Provo because he went there with his son, who pays $50 a month for the privilege.
“I don’t know that I want to pay $50 a month to have a gym membership,” Hirschi said. “I don’t know that it’s needed. Is it wanted? We have to balance our needs and wants.”
Hirschi said this is another example of the importance of listening to the citizens.
“I think we’ve heard the community speak, 76% is a pretty overwhelming majority that doesn’t want to go into debt,” Hirschi said.
He added that a solution is for youth to enjoy recreation options available in Hurricane, like trails and lakes and access to the outdoors.
“Sure, if we can do it at a minimal cost,” Hirschi said about a new rec center. “But I don’t think there’s anyone here who wants this thing hanging over our heads just so we can have a place for kids to recreate.”
Nepotism and conflicts of interest
As with a couple of other communities in Washington County, some of the candidates running for Hurricane City Council are related to each other.
Candidates were asked, “Do you believe that if they were elected, that would lead to a conflict of interest to the members of the community?”
Thomas asked his wife to stand up in the audience and said that his wife is mayoral candidate Nanette Billings’ sister. He also said his wife is related to David Hirschi and Brian Hawkins.
“The point is I don’t think that’s an issue,” Thomas said. “If it was my brother or my spouse on the council, I think there might be a problem here. But I don’t think we have enough in common.”
Thomas added that he supports the ideas of both Billings and mayoral candidate Kevin Tervort.
“I don’t disagree with anyone on the council,” Thomas said.
“But as much as Nanette and I agree with each other on a lot of things, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be dictating to each other how to vote or that we’re going to see eye to eye on every issue,” he added.
Hawkins was succinct with his comments on the issue.
“I don’t care about the family thing,” Hawkins said. “I don’t have a problem with any of these guys, they’re all great as family members. I do think a variety of people is a good thing on the council.”
Hirschi said that he doesn’t think it’s going to be a problem for the community. He talked about the influence of his mother on his family.
“We’ll talk an issue into the dirt,” Hirschi said. “We may not always agree on it even when we leave but hopefully we’ll have good feelings about each other. I think we’ll do the same thing on the council.”
Hirschi’s father, Tom Hirschi, was Hurricane’s longest serving mayor.
“Regardless of whether I have a cousin or a cousin in law or two great men that I’ve worked with in a lot of other capacities, you couldn’t go wrong as a city by electing anyone up here,” Hirschi said.
Like Hawkins, Heideman was brief with his comments on this topic.
“Nepotism is a sensitive issue. No matter what you say, you’re going to offend somebody,” Heideman said. “So I’m going to leave that decision up to you people. I’m not going to take a stand on it.”
He added that while you can choose to be an optimist or a pessimist, he prefers to take a positive approach.
“I know all these people up here, and in my opinion, they’re all good people,” Heideman said.
Water and development
“It’s a two-edged sword,” Hawkins said. “If you stop growth, the town dies. And if you run out of water, the town dies. That’s the big picture.”
He added that low impact water systems should be implemented, landscape systems that can be put in rather than big lawns and grass fields.
“I sure hope we get the Lake Powell Pipeline,” Hawkins said. “We own the water, California doesn’t own the majority of that water. And it’s like anything else, we have to fight for what’s ours.”
Hirschi said he’s been to two recent water board meetings where the topic was discussed. He said Hurricane needs a new viable water source, but he doesn’t know if it will be the Lake Powell Pipeline because of restrictions the Federal Government places on it.
“I agree with Brian, we have rights to that water, but I don’t know that it’s going to happen,” Hirschi said. “Maybe we drill wells.”
He then stated what was the most frequent suggested solution to the water crisis.
“I’m born and raised here and I can remember we had droughts in the past,” Hirschi said. “We’re worried about water. We fast and we pray and we live life. I think that’s our No. 1 solution in this, is to live life. But we’re going to do all we can do in the meantime.”
Heideman said he’s been to six or seven water district meetings to become familiar with the subject.
“There’s about 200,000 people in the county. They expect to have water for 300,000,” he said. “And then after that you’re going to run out of water.”
He said that the federal courts have made a couple of favorable rulings as far as the Lake Powell Pipeline is concerned.
He agreed that more wells could be drilled, noting that the Dixie Springs well has been put up for bid.
Thomas was clear in his comments, which appeared to summarize a consensus among candidates.
“The short answer is, the water will come from Heaven,” Thomas said. “We can’t make any. We are dependent on God for all of our water. And our prayers are the best thing we can do as far as individuals.”
He added that the Lake Powell Pipeline should be used if possible and more wells and reservoirs should be developed.
“But the No. 1 thing we can do as individuals is pray,” Thomas said.
To see the entire forum and hear the complete recording, visit the Chamber’s Facebook page.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 election by clicking here.
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