Snoqualmie mayoral candidates tackle growth, finance, other city issues in Q&A

The primary election is less than a month away, Aug. 1, and Snoqualmie voters will have to choose from five candidates running for Mayor of the city, and three for City Council Position 2. To help voters with their decisions, the Record has asked each candidate to contribute to a question-and-answer session in this week’s issue.

Also, mark your calendars for the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 11 at the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for an informal meet-and-greet with the candidates.

All candidates on the primary ballot were asked the same questions and given the same opportunity to respond.

Mayors were asked:

1. What made you decide to run for Mayor? If you’d known you’d be running against four others, would you have filed?

2. Does the city need to grow? If so, explain why, and why other funding sources aren’t viable. If not, explain why, and how you would fund city operations without the revenue associated with growth.

3. Whether you are for or against it, growth is the reality right now. How would you balance the demands of increased population with the quality of life we enjoy?

4. Growth is supposed to pay for growth, but rarely does. How would you make growth pay for growth?

5. What else do you see as important or emerging issues for Snoqualmie?

6. What is something the city is doing right, that you would not change?

Candidates answers are listed in alphabetical order, by last name.

Fuzzy Fletcher

Fletcher has lived in Snoqualmie for 26 years and works as the operations manager at the Mt. Si Senior Center. He previously worked as the Director of Public Safety for the Snoqualmie Tribe.

He currently serves on the Civil Service Commission. He has previously served on Snoqualmie City Council for two years and as Mayor for eight years. During that time, he earned certification as a municipal leader (CML).

What made you run?

I believe the current administration has forgotten to include citizens, in all decisions. Snoqualmie belongs to the citizens. If you tax citizens, you should have no issues asking for their input through all available means of communications and then listen and act accordingly.

I would have run no matter how many were running.

Do we need to grow?

Snoqualmie needs growth that is incremental not all at once. A city can not build its way out of debt. We don’t need any building on the mill site, it will bring too much traffic and too many environmental concerns. We can build auxiliary residential dwelling as fill-in on existing properties, smaller footprint homes, with less cost and less tax but more density, so more families can have an affordable home.

Snoqualmie will always be looked at for growth, because of its beauty; those wishing to build must bring the solutions to the problems they bring.

At a minimum, the city problems are not enough sustainable water and not enough funds to keep infrastructure maintained. It will take existing tax levels, constant control of spending, creative public-private partnerships and working with all citizens to keep us a great city.

How do you handle your personal bank account, do you get to tax your boss because you are low on funds or do you make do with what you have? If we work with the citizens on all issues, the city will be better off in the long run. Your voice matters.

How to balance growth with our quality of life?

Growth may be a reality, now, but only because the current administration has made it that way. If you slow or temporarily stop large projects, for review and a possible new decision then population, traffic and decreased green spaces would be less of an issue. We must keep our scenic beauty as this is the reason most of our citizens moved here.

Snoqualmie was designed to be a walking community, with protected viewscape, let’s keep it that way.

How would you make growth pay for growth?

Public-private funds are a possibility. How about naming rights? Maybe it is PSE Boulevard instead of the Parkway, and they get to pay for the repaving when it is time?

You can’t pay for growth with growth; the growth would have to continue forever as the costs alone for infrastructure in 25 to 30 years will cost a lot more than the developer left today. Someone’s kids and grandkids will have to pay for it with higher taxes. We will find a way if the administration and citizens work together.

What other issues are emerging in Snoqualmie?

The citizens having a voice in the direction of the city goes hand in hand with transparency. The city must be run in open meetings and discussions, including the budget. Every city council and planning commission meeting must be televised, so that all can see. Traffic sucks and adding more large buildings won’t help. Sustainable water for all citizens is an emerging issue. Historic preservation should be ongoing.

What’s going well?

With time all things will change, however police, fire and parks departments seem to be doing well and the large American flag flying in the city is beautiful.

Matt Larson

An 18-year resident, Larson has served as mayor, City Councilmember, Planning Commissioner and Parks Board member. He has also served in such leadership positions as President of the Sound Cities Association; and President of the Snoqualmie Valley Governments Association. He is an AWC Advanced Certified Municipal Leader.

What made you run?

Next year’s City Council will have a majority of new members. Citizens will need experienced and knowledgeable representatives to successfully meet our current and future challenges.

Yes, I would have filed. No one owes me this office. Competition inspires me to re-earn the honor and privilege of serving as mayor.

Do we need to grow?

I have consistently worked with the City Council to assure that Snoqualmie does not become dependent upon future growth. The city must live within its means so that we remain in control of our destiny. Consequently, I am very wary of more population growth beyond the full build-out of Snoqualmie Ridge. However, I am in support of selective and targeted economic development that serves to support and fiscally sustain the population growth that we have currently allowed.

Any economic development must align with our vision to make Snoqualmie an extraordinary place to live and a premier visitor destination. Our efforts related to new grocery and retail offerings, historic downtown revitalization, additional lodging choices, and the proposed winery-tourism mill site redevelopment serve to enhance Snoqualmie as a destination, achieve fiscal sustainability and reduce pressure on property taxes.

A recent developer request to annex and build 800 units of active senior living in our Snoqualmie Hills Urban Growth Area has not been part of our strategic thinking and is not necessary to achieve these goals. I will encourage the council to subject this proposal to an advisory vote of the citizens.

How to balance growth with our quality of life?

Many local employees increasingly cannot find affordable work-force housing in the Snoqualmie Valley. This trend causes growing congestion in our regional highway system, as local employees migrate to areas like southeast King County to find affordable housing. Alternatively, local businesses are losing employees who are displaced from the Valley. While Snoqualmie does not need to accept more population growth, the Valley does need more work-force housing that can serve to improve traffic.

How would you make growth pay for growth?

In Snoqualmie, growth has paid for growth, and all areas of our city have benefited greatly. We achieved this by requiring numerous voluntary mitigation payments and infrastructure improvements as laid out in the SR Mixed Use Final Plan. However, full mitigation for schools fell short. While the developers provided valuable build-ready land, the School District set unpredictable impact fees which have whipsawed from $10,000 to $0 per dwelling unit over the years.

What other issues are emerging in Snoqualmie?

1. The S.R. 18/I-90 interchange improvements are coming: 2017 design, 2019 to 2022 construction.

2. Street and utility infrastructure will be a continuing challenge as the Ridge reaches its first maintenance cycle and downtown needs long-overdue reconstruction.

3. Our wildly successful Community Center/YMCA is busting at the seams. However, in light of last year’s historic school bond tax increase, we will need to creatively explore all opportunities to fund a pool.

4. A 191-unit workforce housing project that fulfills Snoqualmie Ridge affordable housing requirements will be coming forward shortly. The project is located on the hill behind the hospital.

What’s going well?

Snoqualmie has had great council leadership during the past 12 years due to an ongoing balance between experienced members with valuable knowledge and new members with fresh perspectives. Consequently, I urge voters to re-elect Councilmembers Bob Jeans, Kathi Prewitt and Bryan Holloway and to retain Katherine Ross and Sean Sundwall.

Edward J. Mortensen

Mortensen submitted only the following statement:

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. My Mom passed away from cancer when I was 8 years old. I was number seven out of 11 children. My first opportunity to pound some nails was at age 11 on a church my dad was the general contractor. Over the years my dad had the foresight to work with other tradesmen.

I spent time in the U.S. Army Reserve as an MP and was discharged as sergeant in February, 2001.

Over the years I have worked with a variety of construction projects and have interacted with many families on both ends of the financial spectrum. I have seen and heard their financial struggles, which is why I am running for mayor. The current elected officials and the senior staff are set on doing what they want and raise taxes and utility fees every chance they can.

When they hold a public hearing, which I give them credit, to allow people to speak but they turn around and approve the agenda bill regardless of public dissent.

The thing that I give the city credit for doing very well is the vast majority of the city employees are very friendly and talented.

Steve Pennington

Steve Pennington is a 10-year resident of Snoqualmie. He spent 15 years in the tech industry then became a small businessman, opening Steve’s Doughnuts in 2010. He has also served on the Snoqualmie Arts Commission and the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber Board of Directors, as well as in several volunteer positions.

He submitted a statement, rather than answering the questions, point by point.

With my background in leadership, team building and business ownership, I feel I’m uniquely qualified to help the city as it evolves into its next form.

Running was a decision that I made with my family, and is based on my desire to serve, not on who else is in the race. I’ve been telling voters that I’m running for mayor, not against anyone else.

Growth sometimes feel like a drug for cities. We seem to constantly require one more hit of growth to make ends meet, then we can stop at any time. Just one more large store, one more easement, one more hotel, then we can stop, cold turkey.

Budgets should be based on the revenue the city generates. If a percentage of the budget is spent on, say, emergency services, then a growing population should increase the coffers accordingly. Realizing you have a shortfall should indicate a budgeting failure, not trigger a levy that voters feel obliged to pass or they lose services.

But regardless of the reality of growth and expansion as we are currently experiencing them, it’s important that the citizens of Snoqualmie feel that their voices are heard and opinions respected throughout the process of governance.

Too many of us are looking at the plot of land that is soon to contain a hotel and wondering “what brought us to this point?”

My campaign is about transparency because it isn’t enough to slam through legislation to enable that one more hit of growth, you must have everyone understand why that bit of growth was necessary.

We’ve been marching toward a destination that somebody chose 12 to 15 years ago, and when we have the temerity to ask why, we are marching towards that goal, we are met with condescension.

Growth can be palatable if it’s well thought out, self-funding and presented as adding value culturally. Currently our most contentious projects seem to be rushed, and are seen as diminishing our quality of life. Worse yet, they seem to be meant to fill budget gaps that are projected to hit us over the next few years.

My concerns about growth also extend to the barriers erected by outside forces.

Water will be the most important issue over the next 50 years. Luckily, we are sitting on massive reserves. Unluckily, we don’t get to decide our own fate with our own resources, and have to negotiate water rights with the State.

Similarly we are constrained by the King County Urban Growth Area, which has the unfortunate effect of making us look and feel like a petting zoo for Seattle. Tough negotiations are on the horizon, and we will be best served with new eyes on our problems.

Of course things aren’t all bad, Snoqualmie is a fantastic place to live, and if anything the large number of candidates running for office this year shows that the citizenry are passionate about their city.

What better place could there be to raise a family? Our parks are unmatched, our police and fire services are top notch and the sense of community is growing exponentially. My measure of success for Snoqualmie will be for my two sons to look back at their youth and think they grew up in a great town. I think they will.

Brad Toft

Toft and his family have lived in Snoqualmie for 15 years. He’s served as Rotary President, Chamber of Commerce Vice President, ROA board member and the Voice of the Wildcats. He has also served a year and a half on the City Council and is a 25-year veteran of the financial services industry.

What made you run?

After 12 years, change is needed. I will take a “can do” approach to economic development. We must stop the budget practice of jumping from growth to growth with tax increases in between to make budgets balance. I will work to attract the right businesses to keep the character of Snoqualmie while broadening our tax base. I will listen to our citizens and engage them in our public process.

Do we need to grow?

Snoqualmie has the opportunity to finish out the business park, complete the mill site project, and offer more small business and professional services. In addition, we should continue the regeneration of downtown so we can capitalize on Snoqualmie Falls tourism and broaden our tax base. Proposals that result in additional growth beyond these projects should be reviewed on their individual merits, rather than a rigid pro or anti-growth ideology.

Snoqualmie has a great history and a beautiful natural setting. It is a necessity to preserve those for this place to remain truly extraordinary. However, we should work to remove the burden on our residents and our environment of having to drive 8 to 10 miles out of town for services.

Snoqualmie can have a fiscally sustainable budget if we live within our means, without growth and tax increases. We need to support current businesses while drawing additional services to the community that improve the lives of our citizens. This will increase overall revenues and keep property taxes low. The current zoning in Snoqualmie does not allow for sprawling shopping centers with big-box stores or car dealerships. I am committed to retaining the current zoning.

How to balance growth with quality of life?

To navigate the pressures of growth, leadership is needed. It is the mayor’s duty to cast vision for the city, and drive for a robust debate about priorities.

This public debate has been nearly non-existent, which is why some people are upset. I will put forward a plan for the public to both support and scrutinize.

This will lead to better-informed policy. I will speak clearly and openly to keep people informed about decisions that the city is facing—about growth and other important challenges.

How would you make growth pay for growth?

Growth can pay for growth through the collection of impact and latecomer fees. Other Eastside cities have successfully accomplished this. Seattle has chosen to raise taxes on residents to pay for growth. As mayor, I will ensure that we collect impact fees and will not put forward any budget for council approval that relies on property tax levies to pay for growth.

What other issues are emerging in Snoqualmie?

The city must adjust its human services budget, which is currently 1 percent of current general fund spending. We can address the needs of our most vulnerable people with a re-prioritized budget, without increasing the burden on taxpayers.

What’s going well?

The city has made difficult, but good decisions to maintain the infrastructure. They have struck a good balance with maintaining the newer roads while fixing older road that were neglected by earlier administrations.

Matt Larson

Matt Larson

Edward J. Mortensen

Edward J. Mortensen

Steve Pennington

Steve Pennington

Brad Toft

Brad Toft