Snoqualmie City Councilmember Katherine Ross is one of two candidates running for mayor in this November’s election. She will be campaigning against fellow councilmember Peggy Shepard.
This will be the first time Snoqualmie will have a new mayor since 2005, when current Mayor Matt Larson was elected.
The Valley Record sat down with Ross to discuss her campaign and her priorities, if elected. These statements have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Can you tell me about your background and how that qualifies you to be mayor?
My family and I have lived here in Snoqualmie for 17 years and I have twin daughters who graduated from Mount Si High School. I’ve been active in the community for almost two decades. I volunteer in our schools, I’ve been on a number of city committees, and I was the president of the library board at the time it was being built. I’ve also been involved with nonprofits, including Encompass, where I was the president of the board of directors.
My previous experience is 20 years of corporate work, where I negotiated long-term multimillion-dollar contracts and managed operating capital budgets. I’ve also been an internal operations auditor for a couple of years and worked on streamlining departmental processes and then evaluated and implemented internal controls.
I’ve been on the council since April 2017, so over four years, I have chaired our public safety committee, I’m currently chair of our community development committee, and I’ve been on the finance administration committee for all four years.
I’ve been endorsed by all the mayors in Snoqualmie, North Bend, Carnation, Duvall and Issaquah. I’ve developed a good relationship with our city staff, including all departments. I have endorsements from both the police and firefighters unions.
I also have an MBA and the AWC Certificate for municipal leadership. So I think my experience, my professional career, my community service, my education, and my relationships with our regional and local leaders and city staff prepared me to be an effective mayor.
Q: If elected, what are your biggest priorities?
The first thing is supporting our local businesses as they recover from COVID and making sure we restore all the city events encouraging tourism to the valley.
Another priority is to preserve and increase tourism revenues because over 42% of our revenue relies on property taxes, so if we could increase tourism revenues, that would reduce the burden of property tax on our residents.
Another priority would be preserving and facilitating additional affordable housing, which would help with our Snoqualmie workforce. Quite a few of our firefighters, police and teachers who work out of here can’t afford to live here. Also I want to provide residence for seniors and our grown children who want to come back and live here.
Also continuing to protect our safest city status. In the past, Snoqualmie has been ranked in the top 10 safest cities in Washington. We can do that by ensuring that we have enough resources, adequate funding levels and staffing for our firefighters and police department.
Another one of my priorities is to expand the community center and add a swimming pool. As a council member and council liaison to the YMCA Board, I have been working with community leaders and the YMCA for nearly two years, addressing over-capacity issues at our community center and working with different partners to apply for grants and other funding to help pay for the expansion and pool.
Q: Mayor Larson has been there for almost 20 years. How would your administration be similar or different from his?
Because we’ve grown so much, sometimes we haven’t kept up with perhaps some of the needs to preserve our history, character and address the needs and expectations of such a larger population. So one thing would be improving our public engagement with the community. How do we get them more involved in some of the decision making, for instance.
Q: How would you balance any future city development projects with the need for sustainability?
The Puget Sound Regional Council is predicting that our four county region, which includes King County, will grow by 1.8 million by 2050. That means that there’s going to be a lot of people moving here. They are also predicting quite a few more jobs, so Snoqualmie will grow.
The good thing is we have, this past year, approved what our growth targets are going to be. We’re working through the process of how do we engage our community and our city partners in planning for future growth. and what are the important things that we need in those areas?
As I just mentioned, maybe we need some senior housing or affordable housing. Or do we need more commercial development? I know that one of the issues right now with local businesses or people returning to work is there is not enough childcare. Perhaps there can be more childcare built in that area.
In terms of sustainability, we’ve signed off, as council and the mayor, on the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration commitment letter last year and that ensures that we take the climate into account in everything that we do now to the future.
Q: How would you support small business and economic growth?
That gets back to supporting local businesses and increasing tourism. One thing is employment. There’s a lot of positions that are open that haven’t been filled. Some businesses closed early, or there were some that hadn’t reopened because they couldn’t get enough people. We need to address the lack of employees.
There’s a two-year childcare waitlist and so how do we help those who need childcare? The goal this next year is to help our businesses get back to pre-COVID. That also includes helping support our residents. There’s need for rental assistance, there’s need for help with the landlords themselves, and childcare.
Q: What infrastructure improvements do you think are the most important going forward?
One thing that is continuing is the downtown infrastructure improvement program. There’s about $16 million that we’ve completed, or in the works right now, on an infrastructure improvement downtown. Another one is the Park Avenue River Revetment. They’re working on reinforcing the river wall to reduce erosion and to protect our sewer water, pipes that are eroding.
The other is the Snoqualmie Parkway. We did request funding and the federal infrastructure bill. We did the crack and seal, and that’s going to tie it over and until we can actually go through and completely repave the whole parkway.
And of course the other thing is ensuring that the I-90/SR-18 interchange improvements are completed. They’re supposed to start in 2023 and be completed probably by the end of 2024.
Q: How would you engage residents and support transparency in your administration?
We’ve been working on community engagement the last several years. In 2019, I arranged for an outside review to make recommendations for the public engagement process and she interviewed 129 stakeholders in the community and then provided a comprehensive report on recommendations on how to improve public engagement.
We started some of that in 2019 by doing quarterly town halls, coffee with council, and we had meet and greets before every council meeting. And of course it stopped with COVID.
I want to make sure that we are able to try to reach out to as many residents as possible. You typically see the same residents showing up and I’d like to reach more. We need to figure out how to do that.
I want to build the capacity and structures for participation. I think the community should be first on projects, and we should make sure we have public hearings and public comments.
As mayor, I am also interested in having 15-minute sessions with any resident that wants to meet with me. It’d be great to sit down and just kind of learn what the community members are passionate about.
And it’s also important that I attend any HOA meetings, provide updates, or just listen to what the issues are. Somehow just getting out in the community and and just figuring out what the topics are they want to talk about and how to further engage them.
Q: What do you think is the biggest issue facing Snoqualmie?
Probably supporting local businesses and affordability. I can tell you the median [home] price last month was $850,000 in Snoqualmie and the average price was $931,000. How can young families move here? How can anyone afford to live here, especially with a starter home? A starter home cost here is $400,000 for a family.
We don’t have homes for families to move here. So the question is, how do we make it more affordable so we can attract more families and ensure that people that work here can stay here as well.
Q: Why do you want to be mayor?
This year, the majority of the city council seats are up for election. There’s going to be potentially four new council members and so Snoqualmie needs a mayor that has the council experience. I am someone who has been in the community for almost two decades. The new council will bring a lot of new ideas, which is great, but we also need to provide a balanced approach to ensure that we’ll continue our vision and policies.