With less than one week left before voting closes on Nov. 2 for the Cedar City elections, Maile Wilson-Edwards and Garth Green debated in a final showdown to win the electorate’s votes. A week preceding the mayoral debate, the Cedar City Council finished its final debate.
City Council candidates Derek Morton, Scott Phillips, Ronald Riddle and Carter Wilkey met in The Sterling R. Church Auditorium for their final debate moderated by Executive Council Members Julia Last and Ella Gambil from The Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service at Southern Utah University.
Some of the more important topics covered in this debate were improving water conservation in relation to the city’s impending water crisis, housing shortages due to rapid population growth, approving zoning for student housing and curving the spread of COVID-19.
Phillips is running for public office because he wants to “give back to Cedar City.” In his opening statement, Phillips urged people to exercise their right to vote on election day.
Philips believes that it is not the city’s role to mandate changes to fix issues concerning water conservation. He thinks the city needs to find a balance in maintaining the water it needs for growth, but needs to do so without a mandate. Phillips did not provide a thorough solution to increasing water conservation.
Phillips said. “I support conservation, but I wouldn’t mandate it.”
Phillips wants to prioritize the city’s infrastructure in order to address the increase of its population and fix the housing shortage. He believes that the free market should dictate housing, but it can be corralled by effective infrastructure control.
“I believe if we are smart and take care of our infrastructure we can maintain the 4-5% growth,” Phillips said.
Phillips wants to reevaluate zoning in the city to see where people can build smaller homes on smaller lots. He believes this will help create more available housing.
Student Housing Zoning
Phillips wants to increase student housing, but not necessarily in zones that are already designated to student housing.
“I would approve zoning depending on where it is,” Phillips said. “If it is near historical sites that property owners have rights to, we cannot use those zones.”
Phillips said that he recognizes COVID-19 as a pandemic; however, it has become a very polarized issue. He believes in the guidance of health authorities and encourages everyone to follow their lead.
“We need to follow the lead of the health department and encourage everyone to do the same,” Phillips stated. “Over 760,000 people have died from this virus and us as a city and government officials need to listen to health officials.”
Wilkey’s main desire is to serve the community. He has attended city council meetings since 2018. In his opening statement, Wilkey said he feels he is ready to serve his community.
Wilkey said that water conservation is a big issue that the city is currently working on. He believes a solution to curtailing water usage is increasing some individuals’ water bills.
“The city will find out who is using above the average and wasting more water,” Wilkey said. “Those who are wasting will see an increase in charges for their water bill in order to promote conservative water usage.”
Wilkey also wants to work on programs that will encourage people to conserve water instead of mandating less water usage.
Wilkey believes it is important to talk about creating more affordable and attainable housing. Wilkey said there is a price difference in producing a house and than renting one.
“What is affordable to one person may not be affordable for another,” Wilkeysaid. “There is a big distinction between the cost to produce a house versus the cost to rent.”
In order to address this issue, Wilkey thinks the city needs to have a small hand in the cost to produce housing by engineering zoning. He wants to help find “holes in the market” in order to do so.
Student Housing Zoning
Wilkey wants to improve the lack of student housing by finding ways to enable students to live far away from campus in zones that are not necessarily delegated to student housing.
“I think we need to find a way to move students away from campus,” Wilkey said. “That involves evaluating our public transportation.”
Wilkey explained that if students lived away from campus, the city would also need to expand basic commercial needs so students could have access to them easily.
Wilkey believes that any decision by the city regarding COVID-19 should be left to the individual. Wilkey said that health is a personal matter and it is not the city’s job to know about people’s health decisions.
“As a city government, it is our place to encourage people to speak with doctors and make decisions for themselves,” Wilkey said. “It is not the government’s job to mandate what are personal health decisions.”
Riddle is a long time resident of Cedar City who owns a small business refurbishing cabinets and interior work. In his opening remarks, Riddle stated he has “done more building on campus than anyone.” Riddle claimed he would make sure the people of Cedar City have their voice heard on issues that need to be addressed in order to make the city a better place.
In order to address the issue of water conservation, Riddle wants the community to rely on itself to conserve where it can.
“We need to learn how to conserve water while taking care of our properties,” Riddle said.
He recommended installing new toilets in people’s homes in order to conserve more water.
Riddle wants to reevaluate zoning in Cedar City in order to build more houses and address the city’s housing shortage. He thinks the city needs to analyze what it can afford versus what it can realistically attain.
“Sometimes we have to wait and see what the market will dictate,” Riddle said. “However, new zoning would encourage developers to produce more in these zones and there is an engineering standard we can change to help.”
Student Housing Zoning
Riddle believes the city needs to partner with the university to increase zoning for student housing. However, Riddle continued that if there is no profit motive, builders will not do these projects.
“If people can’t profit they won’t do it, and there are some things we can and cannot do,“” Riddle said. “We can continue with good student housing zoning ordinances and partner with the university to make things work.”
Riddle believes that health is a personal matter and it is not the city government’s job to know or enforce personal health decisions. He wants people to encourage themselves and follow good health guidelines in order to curb the spread.
“Health is personal and it is up to the individual to decide what they might do to protect themselves,” Riddle said. “Be intelligent about it, but mandating anything is not the answer.”
Morton feels his experience running Net Gain Property Management qualifies him for Cedar City Council. Through his business endeavors and his experience as a constituent, he has witnessed some issues in the city’s governance.
In his opening remarks, Morton said that due to the city’s lack of planning, Cedar is experiencing three major crises at once: a dwindling water supply, unattainable affordable housing, and increased poverty.
Morton is concerned that the city’s response to conserve water is misguided and puts the financial burden on the general populace rather than the city government.
“As altruistic as I try to be, my pocket book is a big motivator,” Morton said. “We don’t have the economic climate for people to invest in their property to conserve water and the government doesn’t have the right to dictate homeowner’s decisions.
Morton believes that the housing shortage can not be blamed on the housing market. He said that blaming the shortage on the economics of decreased supply and increased demand is a weak argument.
Morton said. “There are 383 people who go into poverty each year in Cedar and when studios at the Knights Inn cost $1500 a month, it is no wonder people can’t get out of poverty.”
Morton’s goal is to create transitional housing for Cedar City. Currently, Morton believes that there are not enough affordable one-bedroom apartments for young adults and that there is not a good pathway to homeownership.
Student Housing Zoning
Morton believes that SUU continues to set up students and the community for failure because they have no plan to house students as the student population increases.
“SUU needs to come to the city with a plan,” Morton said. “Until they do that, they will continue to screw students in the city.”
Morton continued to explain that SUU and the city need to work together to approve zoning for student housing. He claimed that students are paying 33% more on their rent because of the current housing bubble.
In Cedar City, there is no mask mandate nor a vaccine mandate. As the spread of the virus continues to proliferate, the moderators asked Morton what his response would be to curve the spread. Morton did not provide any actionable suggestions for COVID-19 prevention
“That’s hard because neither mandate would stop COVID,” Morton said. “We try to follow the guidance of the health department, but since neither masks nor vaccines have stopped COVID I don’t see the council implementing a mandate.”
To cast your vote, make sure to mail in your ballot by Monday, Nov. 1. Ballots may be dropped off on Nov. 2 at any of the Vote Centers on Election Day from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Check out Cedar city’s website for more information.
Story and Photos by: Danielle Meuret