The two mayoral candidates in Orem sparred lightly in a debate sponsored by the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce Wednesday night.
About 75 residents filled the council chambers to hear Stella Welsh and Joyce Johnson's views on a handful of issues. Questions about redevelopment areas provoked the most sparks between the two candidates.Johnson said most redevelopment projects in Orem involved sales tax kickbacks, not property tax breaks. The projects have created new jobs, brought new businesses to Orem and thus new tax dollars and have been the catalyst for older businesses to relocate to new facilities.
"Financially we are doing very well and a lot of it is due to RDA projects," she said.
Redevelopment projects have brought $3.25 million dollars after tax increment paybacks into city coffers, she said.
Some businesses that came to Orem with redevelopment assistance, such as RC Willey, have been a boon rather than a hindrance to existing businesses, Johnson said.
Welsh isn't opposed to redevelopment areas if they are used as intended - to improve a blighted area - rather than for the benefit of big businesses that compete with existing business. Orem is using RDA's for economic development rather than as a rehabilitation tool, she said.
"There's nothing legally wrong (with Orem's use of redevelopment areas) but I believe there are a few ethical things wrong," Welsh said.
For example, the city should have provided money to mobile-home owners that had to relocate to make room for the new Macey's store on 800 North, she said.
Giving new businesses an unfair advantage over existing businesses isn't in the city's best interest, Welsh said.
"If we're going to give tax breaks to businesses we bring in, we ought to give tax breaks to businesses that are already here."
Welsh is concerned about the number of closed-door sessions the City Council holds. She said Orem has held more closed-door than open-door sessions in the past year. "In my opinion there have been too many of them," Welsh said.
The council is not holding more closed meetings, Johnson said.
"Sometimes they are necessary," she said. "Maybe sometimes they are overdone. I don't know."
Johnson called State Street a "disgusting sight" and said Orem needs a mayor who can lobby the Utah Department of Transportation for funds to begin rebuilding the roadway.
Welsh believes one of the most pressing problems facing the city is a shortage of affordable housing.
Welsh bills herself as a representative of the people, rather than special-interest groups. A former city councilwoman and member of various boards and communities, she has the competence and intelligence to lead Orem, she said.
A top priority must be maintaining and improving the quality of life for residents of the city.
Orem needs more parks, Johnson believes. As mayor she would vigorously pursue expansion of Cascade Golf Course from nine to 18 holes, with a technology park imbedded in its center.
Johnson, who has served as interim mayor since July, said she wants Orem to have a strong tax base and clean industries. She wants to ensure completion construction of a new SCERA arts center and a sports complex at Utah Valley Community College, and to see State Street improved.