Candidates for Blanding City Council met on October 5 for a debate hosted by the San Juan County Republican Party. The debate was moderated by Sterling Scholar candidate Ashely Berrett.
Of the two four-year positions on the ballot all four candidates for these seats attended the event, including Robert Ogle, Taylor Harrison, Cheryl Bowers and Robert Turk.
The two candidates for a two-year council seat, Logan Shumway and Cory Raisor, did not attend.
It seems that the ever-present topic of discussion in Blanding is the economy. Candidates had plenty to say about making and keeping viable jobs.
Robert Ogle said that growing the local economy starts with supporting current businesses. He repeated it several times throughout the debate. Ogle insisted that local businesses should not be in “survival mode”, but should be prospering.
“Economic development starts first by strengthening, growing, and supporting our local businesses by increasing those jobs, locally first, and then looking outside the economy for new businesses.”
Ogle, a business owner himself, also spoke of “way-finding signs” that he presented to city council. He said these signs can help “pass-though” tourists and visitors find more things to do in Blanding, and hopefully, spend a little more money.
Taylor Harrison agreed with the need to support existing businesses. Harrison spoke of ways the city can help with infrastructure. He also referenced the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) that the city is currently working on as a great option for the city to be proactive and help encourage and control growth. Harrison wants the city to be involved in the development of the community so the people of Blanding can help control how growth happens.
Harrison said he wants to see jobs developed by business owners in the community who have a vested interest in Blanding. He said that big business, that is not locally owned, has a much smaller impact on the economy than if a local person owns a business.
Cheryl Bowers agreed with most the prior statements and added that she does feel that businesses should increase in Blanding. She said that local leaders don’t take control, big business will come in and do it anyway.
Bowers does not believe the government can tell a business how to operate, but they should do things to entice growth in Blanding. She expressed a desire to let businesses know they are wanted and help cultivate a balanced economy.
Robert Turk said that he feels it is a duty of Blanding residents to support local businesses. He said small businesses are hit on all fronts and are forced to compete with internet giants such as Amazon.
Turk said he would work to bring companies that offer higher paying jobs. “As a community, we need to be attractive. Do we have the infrastructure? Are we attractive? Let’s control that growth,” he said.
The next question is if tourism is the only way for the rural economy to grow and what steps to take to see that happen.
Harrison said, “Tourism is absolutely not the only way to grow the economy.” He said tourism is a big part of the economy, but cannot be the only thing to build the economy.
Harrison, the Regional Business Development Officer for the Grand County Credit Union, and has worked in Moab, which is predominately tourism based. He said that the Moab economy is not healthy and it is not something he would like to see for Blanding.
Harrison said that many people work multiple jobs just to make ends meet and buying a home is out of the question because tourism jobs do not pay the bills.
Ogle said “money attracts money.” While tourism is important, it is not the most important part of a balanced economy. He said Blanding needs to build current businesses.
Turk insisted it would be stupid to throw away tourism money that is already coming in. However, Turk said there is a teacher shortage in Moab caused by a high cost of living due to out-of-control tourism. Teachers can’t afford to live there and he does not want to see that happen in Blanding.
Bowers said tourism is not be the only thing in the economy and said that while we need tourists, we want a balanced economy.
Candidates were asked about alcohol sales in Blanding. All four candidates said they will vote whichever way the public votes in November.
While some candidates said the question was hard for them, Turk bluntly said, “This is not a hard question for me. I would vote, as a citizen, to keep Blanding dry.”
Regarding beautification, Harrison and Turk said the CRA can help. Bowers listed ways to improve the town appearance, including bike and walking paths.
Ogle said many lots are full of weeds and are an eye sore. “Many of them are absentee land owners who don’t care about Blanding. It is time for the city to put pressure on those people to maintain that land and clean it up.”
A popular question on Facebook was about police and about hiring an officer to help ease the strain on a police force that some think is stretched thin.
Ogle simply stated that he does not support the hiring of another officer for financial reasons.
He said that if citizens are willing to pay the extra cost, he could get on board but the city does not have the funds.
Bowers said she had not heard that the police force is stretched thin and needs more details.
Turk said he didn’t know the details but supports the officers. Turk wants to insure that officers are safe. He wants to listen to officers and provide the resources they need.
Harrison said that eventually, if not currently, the city will need another officer. He disagreed with Ogle and said that “we can find the funds”. He insisted that the police department has to be a priority.
The Wellness Center was discussed, with questions about an indoor pool and summer passes.
Turk said he supports summertime-only passes and said people ask about an indoor pool. He said he doesn’t know if it is feasible, but it is something he generally is in support of.
Bowers said, “I do not support an indoor pool at this time,” adding that the city has many other needs before an indoor pool. She would favor an outdoor splash pad before an indoor pool. Bowers is hesitant about summer passes because the center needs year round funds to operate, but is interested in looking into the idea.
Harrison said the city needs annual passes and use of the wellness center year round but he is willing to look into summer passes. On the indoor pool, Harrison said anything is feasible if you are willing to pay for it. He said he would love to see it happen but is concerned about the cost of building and maintaining it.
Ogle said the Wellness Center is one of the “jewels” of Blanding. He said the city does not have the money right now to build an indoor pool and wonders how people would like to pay for that. Would they like to increase taxes? Increase membership fees?
The debated ended with a thank you to those who helped put it together and joke about the out-of-control skunk population.