ST. GEORGE Voters in Dixie's main city will decide next week whether longevity counts when it comes to serving on the St. George City Council.
Of the 13 people running in Tuesday's primary election, three are incumbents with a combined total of 23 years on the City Council. Voters will select the top six from the field and those six will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
"It's time for a new era in St. George," said candidate Warren Wright, who retired to St. George from the Salt Lake City area about five years ago. "We need structural, physical and social changes."
Wright and the other candidates spoke Monday night at Dixie State College during a meet-the-candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Around 40 residents attended the event and submitted questions to the candidates. The forum was televised on the local community television channel.
How to best spend St. George's $165 million budget and how to meet the demands of an increasing population were the top issues facing candidates. All three incumbents praised the city's mayor, manager, employees and fellow council members for a job well done.
A few candidates trumpeted their deep roots in Utah's Dixie. Others said they would bring a fresh perspective to the job that serves a city of 50,000 residents.
"It's important to control growth. I think the city has done a tremendous job and we're in good shape," said current Councilman Rod Orton. "We'll always need to look for more water and power supplies."
Russell Sanderson said his previous experience as a city councilman in South Jordan is a huge plus for voters.
How to handle a burgeoning population, increased traffic, low wages, a deteriorating downtown, the need for more transitional or low-income housing, public transportation and a growing Hispanic community were other issues addressed by the candidates.
"Forging the future and preserving the past is a challenge," said current Councilman Larry Gardner.
Hank Kodele, a retired law enforcement officer, said growth in St. George should be reined in.
"What's being created right here in St. George is a big city that's getting larger and larger. The growth is out of control," said Kodele. "Two- to three-percent growth is fair. Five to six percent is out of control."
Should Sue Kimball win a seat on the St. George council, she would join two other women currently serving as council members. She said California's financial and political crisis presents a real opportunity for southern Utah.
"There's great potential there for us to attract businesses here from California," she said. "But we have to be certain we are ready with the right infrastructure."
The city's impact fees cover about 70 percent of the real cost of building in St. George, said current Councilman Bob Whatcott.
"We have three CPAs working full time and a city manager who's as efficient as I've ever seen anybody," said Whatcott. "The budgets are looked at every day and I feel confident that St. George is in good shape. Is the impact fee the correct number or should it be increased?"
Garry Bedingfield, Ed Baca and Evan "Greg" Stevens all called for higher impact fees, while general contractor Bret Empey said he opposes the proposed location for the new St. George airport.
"We know the impact fees are not covering all our water needs," said Baca, a retired law enforcement officer and part-time teacher. "Are we subsidizing developers in order to help them build?"
Doug Hardy and Royce Jones lamented the fact that high-paying jobs are scarce in St. George."We are exporting our youth to work in other communities. I don't think that's right," said Jones. "We should take advantage of California. They're being taxed to death."