Page mayoral candidates debate city issues

Mayoral candidates Rick Yanke (left) and Bill Diak debate issues relevant to Page at the Page Public Safety Building on June 23.

This is part one of a two-part story covering the mayoral and City Council debate held at the Page Public Safety Building on June 23. This week focuses on responses by mayoral candidates Bill Diak and Richard Yanke, while next week will center on City Council candidates Theresa Lee, David Auge, Joelann “Jules” Costa and Mike Farrow. The election will be held Aug. 2.

The two candidates running for mayor of the City of Page – incumbent Bill Diak and challenger Rick Yanke – answered questions at a debate on June 23 sponsored by Chamber Page Lake Powell.

Questions were posed by moderators by Steve Law and Brian Henderson, and candidates were given three minutes each to answer. 

Diak, the city’s current mayor, has lived in Page for 42 years and has spent the past 10 years as mayor or serving on the City Council.  

“I think my strengths I bring to council are my abilities to bring ideas together and not to be harsh about how I handle and work with people. I believe that I’m a consensus builder,” Diak said in his introduction. He added that one of his strengths was “fiscal responsibility [and] keeping the city sound financially.”

Yanke has lived in Page for 39 years and currently serves on the City Council, a position he has held for three years. He retired from the Page Police Department as a sergeant, and was with Page Utility Enterprise for 14 years – seven of those as the chairman. 

“I think that I would make a great mayor because I know the City of Page. I think that there are things we need to do for the citizens,” Yanke said during his introduction. “I understand that we are a tourist town, and we don’t have a major employer other than the tourism industry, the school district, the Park Service, which is based on tourism. But we can’t forget the citizens of Page.”

At the start of the debate, the candidates were asked what they thought was the greatest problem facing Page at the moment, and what actions they would take to help mitigate it.

Diak said Page has “critical water situations” occurring, including low water in Lake Powell and the need to install a second pipe, or “straw,” to draw water from the lake for the city – a problem that he said the council was well aware of has been working on for a long time.

“The access to the lake is one issue, with the low water and things like that. It’s certainly problematic for a lot of our businesses, and if we don’t get something accomplished with that shortly, we’re going to start losing businesses in town,” he said.

He said the city has been lobbying the National Park Service and congressional representatives for better access to the lake and has also been lobbying to get infrastructure funds for the second straw. Meanwhile, the city has also been working with the Bureau of Reclamation to lower the access point from which Page draws water passing through Glen Canyon Dam, a system that is expected to be in place by the coming fall.

Yanke agreed that the second straw and maintaining the city’s access to water was the main concern, but he added that another important issue was providing “something for the citizens of Page.” 

“If there’s nothing here for them, whether it be a job or housing, people are going to leave. You can’t keep a city viable without people in it,” he said.

The candidates were also asked whether there was a plan to provide citizens, homes and businesses with clean drinking water if the lake dropped to a level where water could no longer be brought into the city’s system.

Yanke said that once the Bureau of Reclamation completes the project to lower the elevation from which water can be drawn from the dam, the city will be taking water from river level. 

“At that point in time, even the second straw wouldn’t give us additional water,” he said. “The Bureau of Reclamation, by an act of Congress, is required to provide us with water. We would have to work with them to see how it would work out. I don’t foresee that ever being a problem.” 

Diak said the bureau’s project will bring water from “as absolute low as you can get.”

“It is in the river flow area, so if we can’t get any water, it means the river is not flowing,” he said. “The chances of us losing … the availability to get water up to the town are very, very, very drastic” once the project is complete in the fall.

Concerning the issue of housing, Yanke said the city has been working with numerous developers to build affordable housing. While COVID and rising costs have stalled some of these projects, others are moving forward. 

“We are reaching out wherever we can to try and get people to come to town and build affordable housing,” he said.

Diak agreed that the city is actively looking for developers to come and build housing, but added, “Page has always been problematic because we’ve got to bring so much of our material and our workforce for construction from out of town and mobilize. It drives our housing costs up.” 

“Council realizes that housing is of utmost importance to us, and we’ve been working on it. It’s been our priority for quite a few years. Some of that is starting to come to fruition,” Diak said. 

Recently, a group of residents has been coming to City Council meetings to call for the installation of a swimming pool and splash pad in Page. The candidates were asked whether they were in favor of such a plan. 

Diak said he supported the idea of a pool and splash pad, adding that “everything takes money.” He said the city plans on looking at pool designs.

“We gotta get the numbers, then we’d find out what it’s going to cost us, then we can build it,” Diak said. “I believe we’re going to see that pool within the next two, three years because it takes the plan, it takes the design, it takes where, and the money. We’re putting all of those things together.” 

Yanke said he also supports the pool and splash pad “as long as they don’t drain the city coffers.”

“Building a splash pad would be nice. We’ll see where the numbers pencil out and see if the city can afford it,” he said.

Regarding concerns about installing a splash pad at a time when drought is a concern, he said, “Congress allocated us a specific amount of water to use. … We have not hit our limit ever, as to how much water we can use. I don’t think that we will, at this point in time, hit that.” 

Yanke said his “big vision” for the city was to “see people come to Page, stay in Page, to live here, keep the people who are currently living here, here.” 

He said he would like to see the schools improve so that families don’t leave once their children reach school age. 

“One of the ways to do that is affordable housing so that teachers can stay here. Teachers come here and do their first two-year contract, and first thing they do is look for another school district to go to,” he said. 

Yanke said there’s a similar problem with Page’s medical facilities, forcing many residents to travel to other towns to see a doctor.

“[The hospital and clinics] run into problems with people coming into town and staying here,” he said. “Doctors come in here after medical school, do two to four years, get their debt to the federal government forgiven, and run someplace else. If they had housing and other things for families to do, maybe we could get some of them to stay and build a better community for everybody.” 

Diak said he wants to “champion and promote the community of Page.” 

He said he loved the community when he moved to Page 42 years ago and that love has never left him. 

“I’d like our community to be what our citizens would like to see it be: a vibrant community, a safe place for our kids and all of our families, as well as a place that we can get the type of care that we need,” he said.

Diak said he’s written letters that have resulted in two doctors coming to Page to work and have their federal loans forgiven, and he’s also working with the local hospital to attract more visiting doctors. 

Overall, he said, the current council has “gotten us financially stable, we’re taking care of our roads, we’re going to be working on a pool. Those are all things that we’re working on.”

“A lot of these things, the questions that have been asked tonight, are happening but we’re not aware of it. I don’t know if we’re not doing a good job selling it, telling everybody about it, but they are happening,” he said.

In his closing statement, Yanke reiterated that he has been in the City of Page for almost 40 years, working for the police department and the city for 20 of those years. 

“I really, really enjoy being in this community, I love serving this community. I got on City Council because I felt I could make a difference. I still think I can make a difference. That’s why I’m running for your mayor,” Yanke said. “I’ve worked with the council tirelessly and tried to keep the city going in the proper direction and the city financially solvent.”

Diak asked for the support of voters to re-elect him. 

“For me, it’s all about my passion for the community. Since the day that I first moved here, it’s been my love to be a part of this community,” he said.

“It’s my passion to give back to the community for everything it’s given me over the years. It’s kind of humbling. … I love doing what I’m doing, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it over the years, and I’ve got two more left in me, and I would appreciate your help.”

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