Three candidates are running for two at-large council seats this year, and on Sept. 30, they had a chance to make their cases directly to voters during a round-table discussion at Moab City Hall.
Incumbents Jeffrey Davis and Kyle Bailey are seeking additional terms on the council, while Heila Ershadi is making her first run for city office. Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison is also running unopposed for re-election.
The hour-long discussion, which was moderated by Times-Independent Editor Lisa J. Church and KZMU Program Director Christy Williams, focused heavily on the issues of higher education, economic diversification and local infrastructure.
All three council candidates, along with Sakrison, voiced strong support for ongoing efforts to expand Utah State University-Moab into a destination campus. Likewise, each of them agreed that the project would be a huge boon to the city’s economy.
“We’re just 100 percent committed in getting it to Moab,” Bailey said.
Davis said the USU-Moab campus will play an important role in the community.
“I can’t wait for it to get going,” he said. “The contribution will be enormous. I think it’s the missing piece of the puzzle in all respects.”
Ershadi also agreed.
“I think it will bring a lot to the community by having that vibrant youth culture that will go along with it,” she said.
The three candidates also agreed that a tourism-based economy is vital to the community’s well-being, although Davis and Ershadi were at odds when asked about the local workforce situation.
Davis identified the current state of the available workforce as one major deterrent to the tourism industry, and went on to call the outlook “pretty bleak.”
It’s hard for businesses to attract employees who will stay with them year-round, he said.
Ershadi took issue with that characterization.
The community has a highly qualified and well-educated workforce, she said, citing one example of a Harvard University graduate who is currently flipping burgers at a restaurant.
Bailey said he believes the issue of year-round employment will continue to be a problem. But the city can provide opportunities for people to come in and start up new businesses by building and maintaining the kinds of infrastructure that make Moab an attractive community, he said.
Looking at the long-term picture, Bailey said the city needs to prepare for a range of potential impacts to the city’s culinary water system, including climate change, flood control and development in Spanish Valley.
Ershadi agreed that climate change is a major concern on the horizon. City officials will need to take a hard look at conservation measures, she said.
Luckily, she said, Moab has benefitted from the services of City Engineer Rebecca Andrus.
Davis said he believes the city’s infrastructure is prepared to handle future growth. At the same time, though, he questioned how the city can continue to pay for new projects such as the fitness center or community parks.
Sakrison identified future demands for water as the city’s top concern.
“Everything hinges on water,” he said. “If we don’t have water, we can’t grow.”
The city also needs to find a better economic balance, he said. But eventually, Sakrison said, USU-Moab will drive the economy for years to come.