Cristie Coffing and Bob Jeans, running for position 1 on the city council, answer questions, about growth, and vision for the future of the city. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

City candidates take turns in hot seat: Snoqualmie candidates share similar visions for the future, differ on how to get there

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.

The candidates discussed several recent development projects including the incoming hotel on Snoqualmie Ridge and the proposed retail development on the old Snoqualmie Mill Site, the former Weyerhaeuser lumber mill and an EPA designated Brownfield site because of chemical of chemical spills at the site after a fire in 1989.

Position 2

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.

“Our residents spend a dollar, 73 cents goes out of Snoqualmie, and they go to North Bend or Issaquah,” Ross said. “Businesses we have are services, we don’t have the clothing, automotive, entertainment, and if we had those here, we would be able to stop the leakage.” Most of Snoqualmie’s growth is in residential she said, but the city needed “economic development, growth retail and also … tourism.”

Sheppard followed up by saying that the city does need more retail and economic development, but it must be done in a way that preserves Snoqualmie’s environment.

“We need to be extremely careful when we are developing, to conserve what makes Snoqualmie special. People moved here from Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue. They want to see the majestic beauty here. They do not want high density development,” she said. “As far as (the) mill site, I want to see the project cleaned up before we start the bulldozers.”

Position 5

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. That’s an important part of a local government’s role to not be solely reliant on taxes to fill the (revenue) sources throughout the city and its sources

Position 3

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.

On the topic of affordable housing and bringing higher-paying jobs to the city, Holloway said the city already has an affordable housing project in the works, on Parcel S20 near Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, specifically for working-class families to be able to live and work in the city. He also said the city is working on attracting businesses to Snoqualmie.

“We do have the affordable housing development that is going in place and that is strictly targeted toward working families that they have a a place they can live and work inside Snoqualmie,” Holloway said. “We do have efforts in place in regards to economic growth, trying to attract the business that we really want to come here.”

Wood agreed, but said the affordable housing project was a “can that needs to quit being kicked down the road and to bring it to fruition.”

Position 7

Kathi Prewitt and Peggy Shepard answered questions about how to diversify the city’s tax base and if the candidates would want to see the Snoqualmie Hills West area, a 250-acre parcel north of historic downtown in the Urban Growth Area, annexed into the city.

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.

Shepard also said she was against the annexation of the Snoqualmie Hills West area and said the rugged landscape and proposed projects, including the recent senior housing proposal, were not compatible.

“The last development project, the developer said it wouldn’t be feasible for them to do something smaller than what they were proposing. For a variety of reasons it would be prohibitive to bring the infrastructure needed to develop that,” Shepard said.

Prewitt said that her opinion on a potential annexation and development on the land would depend on the development’s fit with the city.

Position 6

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.

Lowney said she does not have a problem with the mill site development but stressed the importance that the site contamination is mitigated properly.

Answering a question about the development bringing large trucks into the city and creating a problem at both the I-90 and Highway 18 interchange, and the Snoqualmie Parkway, she said, “Port trucks will be coming to Snoqualmie from Tacoma and Seattle, jamming up our interchange, coming up our parkway all day long,” she said. “If we are going to make Snoqualmie a trucking route community, which I personally do not believe fits the character of Snoqualmie, then let’s have them create a new way to get to their trucking warehouse facility, not through our neighborhoods.”

In a question about requiring future developers to take on more of the burden of infrastructure for growth, Sundwall said developers should take on as much as possible but it can be tricky, as an example he said the Salish expansion will be paying for infrastructure connections to city services.

“The challenge becomes these things have to pencil for developers. Salish for example, they will pay for everything that goes underneath their structures and will pay an attachment fee. The current rate is $20,000 per ERU just to connect to the city. That is growth paying for growth.”

Position 1

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.

“We need to have that diversification, we need to retrofit the city of Snoqualmie so we can provided the kinds of services you need as a resident of Snoqualmie,” Jeans said. “We need to go to you and find out what you need. That’s my vision.”

Coffing said that the city needs to find a sustainable budget, and to take on any more projects now would be irresponsible.

“I believe in piloting growth with long-term vision that ensures a balance between the social, economic and environmental needs of the community,” Coffing said. “Community needs to be involved with the future growth issues with the people having a voice in those issues.”

On Thursday, Oct. 12, the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce will host a Snoqualmie Valley School Board candidate forum, from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge, starting with a social at 4:30 p.m.

The next candidate forum hosted by the Chamber will feature the North Bend City Council candidates, at 4:45 p.m., on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Mount Si Senior Center. The final forum will feature candidate for Snoqualmie Mayor forum at 11:30 a.m., on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge.

Bryan Holloway responds to an answer by his opponent Tom Wood. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Monica Lowney and Sean Sundwall, both runnning for Position 6, answer questions about the city’s growth at the candidate forum. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Kathi Prewitt and Peggy Shepard talk about how the city can diversify its tax base to move away from a reliance on property taxes. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Katherine Ross and Lesley Sheppard discuss city spending and how changes can be made to reduce spending and increase revenue. They are running for Position 2(Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Matt Laase, running for Position 5, talked about diversification of the city’s revenue and reducing overall expenses. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

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