Governor says drought doesn’t have to put halt on growth and development, touts rural commitment

ST. GEORGE — With some local leaders calling for a moratorium on building permits and denser zoning in the continuing drought, the governor of Utah said there still needs to be a balanced approach between conservation and growth – especially with another drought as far as affordable housing is concerned.

Gov. Spencer Cox, wearing a mask seven days after being diagnosed with COVID-19, speaks during the taping of the PBS Utah Monthly Governor’s News Conference program, Salt Lake City, Utah, May 19, 2022 | Screenshot courtesy of PBS Utah, St. George News

“We are certainly encouraging more building to lower the price of housing. We need more building, but we have to do that responsibly,” Gov. Spencer Cox said during the Thursday taping in Salt Lake City of the PBS Utah Monthly Governor’s News Conference program. “We have to make sure that the water resources are available for the housing that is coming into that area.”

On a day he was marking 500 days in office, Cox also tried to make the case he was keeping his promise to increase his commitment to the rural areas of Utah during his administration.

A common theme in most local city council meetings of late has been council members weighing whether to allow the building of more housing and other development versus dwindling water resources. Many officials and members of the public have said there should be a total moratorium and that the drought outweighs the desire for economic development.

But Cox said there has to be a balance. 

“I don’t think that they’re mutually exclusive. We’ve always been in a dry state and we’ve had very positive economic development,” Cox said. “We are in a drought cycle right now. I don’t anticipate that the drought cycle will last forever. I don’t know if it will last one more year or five more years or 10 more years. We have to respond to conditions as, as they present themselves and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Cox, who started his political career as a city council member and mayor in Fairview, noted bills passed in the recent state legislative session that require cities to include water resources in their planning

“Any good mayor, any good city council would always look at the water resources that they have available, and the building permits that they’re looking at, and make sure that they’re not overextending in a way that would hurt everyone in that community,” Cox said. “On a temporary basis, as we work through these issues, not only should they do it, not only do I support it, it’s now the law that they have to do that.”

“We’ve kept our promises”

When Cox was running for governor, one of his promises was to have a greater focus on rural areas, including Southern Utah, if elected. 

The Panguitch Gem Theater on Main Street in Panguitch, Utah. Aug. 11, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

On Thursday, Cox said he has lived up to that promise, especially in regard to developing more jobs in those areas.

“I promised that we would work on moving jobs, state government jobs to rural Utah. And I’m pleased to say that we’ve been able to do that now. We’re closing in on 200 jobs that we’ve been able to move. That may not seem like a huge number, but in small areas, every one of those jobs is a really big deal,” Cox said. “We’ve also been working with the private sector to move more jobs into rural Utah. And I’m pleased to say that that is happening as well.”

With 2% unemployment overall in the state, which according to economists is one of the lowest levels in Utah history, Cox said that should incentivize businesses to look at the less populated areas of the state as potential places for growth. 

Cox said he has had conversations with business leaders who say they have done just that. And the results have been positive. 

“They’re moving more, even high-level jobs, into those areas and finding that the work being done there is every bit as good, if not better, than the work that they’ve seen in other locations,” Cox said, adding that he will also continue to make it a point to visit areas in all parts of Southern Utah. “I still have my office in Southern Utah and we’re, we’re down there every month as well. And we’re making connections with business leaders and education leaders and public officials in those rural counties. So we’ve kept our promises. And there’s still more to come.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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