City Council debate talks taxes, growth and transportation

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The Provo City Council held a debate on Oct. 7 with candidates for district seats on the City Council. The debate helped shed some light on the platforms the candidates are running.

The debate was organized by BYU's Office of Civic Engagement.
The Provo City Council debate was organized by BYU’s Office of Civic Engagement. (Simon Liu)

“The debate is intended to help students and Provo citizens see the candidates and hear them talk about issues that are relevant to Provo,” said BYU Political Science professor Richard Davis, who helped to organize the debate. “It’s an opportunity for people to get a sense of what these candidates are like and what their positions are on issues.”

Seven out of the 10 candidates participated, including incumbent runners Gary Winterton, for District 1, and Kay Van Buren, for District 4. Other candidates in attendance included: Carina Wytiaz, running for the City-Wide seat; David Harding and Stephen Hemingway, competing for District 5; and Dave Knecht and Brian Smith, who are competing for District 3. Candidates Clint Rhinehart, Howard Stone and George Stewart did not attend the debate.

A focus of the debate was about the Recreation, Arts and Parks Tax, which the council approved in August and will be on the general election ballot in November. The RAP tax would require shoppers to pay an extra cent in sales tax for every $10 spent. The tax would generate roughly $1.2 million per year and would go to Parks and Recreation projects such as facilities, art expansion and project planning, according to a blog post by the city council.

“I’m really excited that this kind of fund will go towards repairing the playgrounds that my children play on,” Wytiaz said. “I want to make sure that we are maintaining our recreation and our parks because it’s part of what makes living in Provo so great.”

Van Buren, on the other hand, was skeptical that the tax is necessary, citing Provo’s already rising gas and property taxes as well as utilities fees.

“I just don’t think we need to hit our citizens with any more taxes,” Van Buren said. “To really justify raising the tax, I think there really needs to be a compelling need.”

Another important topic was on public transportation in Provo. Most candidates were generally supportive of improving public transportation in Provo, whether through the UTA, private organizations or even biking lanes and sidewalks.

“We want to make sure that we are building a public transportation system right now so that our population in 10, 20 or 30 years is going to be sustained,” Wytiaz said. “We do not want 25 thousand more cars on our roads, nobody wants that.”

Candidates also discussed how they plan to help college students and encourage more participation. Smith said the important factor in improving political participation is in ease of use.

“People in other countries are voting and getting their hands chopped off because of it and we can’t be bothered to go three blocks to vote,” Smith said. “It’s a sad condition but it’s something we have to continue to chip away at.”

The next city council debate will be at the Provo Recreation Center on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and will be hosted by the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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