Although their proposed pathways to the future may differ, the 12 candidates running for six seats on the Snoqualmie City Council agreed that the city is in transition and the decisions made today will have big impacts on how Snoqualmie evolves.
On Thursday, Oct. 5, 11 of the 12 city council candidates gathered at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge for a candidate forum. The candidates were Bob Jeans and Cristie Coffing for Position 1; Katherine Ross and Lesley Sheppard for Position 2; Bryan Holloway and Tom Wood for Position 3; Matt Laase and Terry Sorenson (who did not attend) for Position 5; Sean Sundwall and Monica Lowney for Position 6; and Kathi Prewitt and Peggy Shepard for Position 7.
The lineup for the Q&A was race by race, putting the two candidates for a position in the “hot seat” to answer questions in a more focused manner. The candidates were questioned in the order below.
Katherine Ross and Lesley Sheppard began by addressing questions on city spending, development projects, and property taxes, which were common themes during the forum.
Sheppard said the city needs to adjust its staff levels to cut back on the amount of overtime clocked by employees and cut back on consultants. She felt the city depended too much on consultants, rather than hiring people with the expertise. Ross responded that consultant expertise was important for certain issues, and the city would rather hire them from outside than pay their salaries inside.
Ross and Sheppard both supported additional economic development and retail growth in the city. Ross explained that additional retail would help capture tourism spending, reduce the city’s reliance on property taxes and address the retail leakage problem.
Matt Laase had the spotlight to himself Thursday night as his opponent, Terry Sorenson, did not attend the event.
Asked about the city budget, Laase said the city’s next step will be to diversify its revenue sources since the majority of revenue comes from property taxes. Smart planning and reduced spending will be necessary.
He said his research on the city budget showed “…a potential shortfall in our future.” For every new development, “…we have to be certain we have the revenue from those to be able to make up the difference… That goes to smart planning, making those hard choices that sometimes we have to reduce our spending to increase our revenue. ”
Bryan Holloway and Tom Wood discussed responsible growth and affordable housing. Wood said that, in addition to building developments that fit the city and maintain its character, developers should be paying more impact fees to the city.
“Developers … are not called upon to pay their fair share of impact on the infrastructure for the city. I know what the impact fees are that the city currently charges per house, I question whether they are sufficient,” Wood said. “The fire department would like to have a much larger truck to be able to reach the 50 to 60 feet of the hotel if they need it. That is a half a million dollars the fire department doesn’t have.”
Holloway said the city has been growing responsibly already, and has continued to receive accolades as a top city to raise a family and for its focus on renewable energy sources.
Kathi Prewitt and Peggy Shepard answered questions about how to diversify the city’s tax base.
Prewitt said property taxes are about 52 percent of the city’s revenue, but taxes are limited to grow by only 1 percent per year. Because of the limit, revenue growth can’t keep up with expense growth. By diversifying the base through retail development and improved tourism economy, she said, the city would not have the majority of their revenue sources be limited.
“We need to bolster our tourism economy,” Prewitt said. “Through revitalization of downtown, the hotel, those are important cornerstones to increasing that ability to diversify the revenue stream. An overnight guest will spend four to five times more than a day visitor.”
Shepard echoed the statement that the city is too reliant on property taxes, and said Snoqualmie citizens spend more on those taxes than Issaquah citizens. She agreed that diversification of the revenue base through retail and tourism was important.
Sean Sundwall and Monica Lowney debated on economic growth, traffic and development.
Lowney began by clarifying that she is not against growth, but wants to see the city make smart choices and to reduce unnecessary expenses. Lowney wanted to see an assisted living facility for the senior population, increased tourism, more businesses coming to the city, as well as more services for seniors and teenagers.
Asked what he considers reasonable development, Sundwall described growth using existing resources and used the mill site as an example. The Seahawks VMAC training center was also built on a contaminated site, but the area was cleaned up. By making sure the Mill Site developers complete a proper Environmental Impact Statement and the site is properly mitigated, a development would be a benefit to the community.
Bob Jeans and Cristie Coffing talked about the city’s relationship with the Snoqualmie Tribe.
Coffing said they need to work together and improve on coordinating projects. As a downtown business owner, she wanted to apply that improved relationship goal to the Snoqualmie Ridge as well.
Jeans, the council’s liaison to the Snoqualmie Tribe, said that the relationship between the governments had been vitriolic, but has dramatically improved over the last year with continued efforts to move forward together on several issues.
Jeans said Snoqualmie doesn’t need more houses and more residential growth, and should instead focus on diversification of services and business opportunities for citizens.
Coffing said that the city needs to find a sustainable budget, and to take on any more projects now would be irresponsible.