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Enumclaw City Council candidate debate Part I

Editor’s Note: City Council candidates for positions one, three, five and seven responded to three in-paper debate questions presented by the editorial department and columnist Rich Elfers.

The candidates are :

Position No. 1 Morgan Irwin. Pamela Harding has withdrawn although her statement is in the voter’s pamphlet.

Position No. 3: Mike Sando. Shelby  DeVol has withdrawn from the race but her name will appear on the ballot.

Position No. 5: Tom Mann and Juanita Carstens.

 

• Position No. 7: Hoke Overland and Sean Krebs.

 

Question 1:  Are you willing to raise taxes to fix our streets?  (This can be done using councilmatic bonds and not going to the public for a vote.)

Overland: I’m a fiscal conservative and I am not in favor of raising taxes without first letting our citizens have a voice. While going door-to-door with my campaign, I have heard many residents say they want our streets fixed. As your councilman, I would propose that we put this matter before the voters. Within the city we do have a Transportation Benefit District but this board has very limited choices. Instead, we should ask the voters to consider raising city sales tax by 0.2 percent (just 2/10 of 1 percent), or ask for a license tab fee increase. If we pair the additional revenue from either of these choices with grant money, we could make the necessary repairs and maintain our streets. Councilmatic bonds would require the city to have a surplus in the general fund to pay off the debt—unfortunately, the city’s budget is very tight and we do not have a surplus.

Krebs: I’m not willing to raise taxes to fix our streets without a vote from the people. As I’ve stated publicly, the citizens of Enumclaw deserve a say in having their taxes raised. There are a number of ways to raise funds to fix our streets, including taxes, bonds and user fees and the most significant would involve a property or sales tax increase. Before making such an increase, I would have to see at least an advisory vote from the people that they were in support of the tax increase. Earlier this year, the council formed a Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which I have a leadership role in. The purpose of the TBD is to prioritize street projects and identify appropriate funding mechanisms. My position with the TBD is consistent with the position I’ve had in the nearly 12 years I’ve been on council – citizens should have as a say when their taxes are raised.

My opponent can only talk about keeping taxes low. I have a record of not increasing taxes on citizens and business.

Question 2: Should the city give the Expo Center to the school district, or should the city stay the course with the current plan of renting the venue to different groups and events?

Krebs: First, I want to state that I think this is an irresponsible question, as (1) the city and the school district have had no talks regarding transferring ownership of the Expo Center and (2), for the city to “give” property to the district would likely be illegal. That said, even though there is room for improvement in current administration of the Expo Center, the current plan of renting the venue to different groups and events does seem to be the best given current resources and management. The Expo Center and events manager has done a great job booking and maintaining the facility, helping to make it the asset it is today. I have advocated for years for council and other city leaders to provide appropriate support for the Expo Center in the form of adopting a business plan and a long-term management strategy for the center.

Overland: The Expo Center creates additional sales for our businesses and generates additional sales tax revenue for our city. While the city must still subsidize the Expo’s budget—to a lesser degree each year—the benefit outweighs the cost considerably. I think the city should remain in control of this asset. By remaining in control, we ensure that the events held there are conducive to our community. Also, I contacted the school district and they do not currently have a need or interest in the property.

 

Question 3: The council has said repeatedly that the Expo Center has to be self-sustaining. Is this a realistic stance since costs to the general fund have diminished to $40,000-60,000/year and the Expo Center generates millions of dollars of merchant business and thousand [sic] of dollars in taxes as a result of the events from the venue?

Overland: I don’t think the stance is realistic. While self-sustainability should be a goal, it is not a must. You can be penny wise and pound foolish. Our merchants have a tough enough time right now, so consider what things would be like if they lose that additional tourist revenue. Additionally, the Expo Center pays overhead fees (legal, IT, A/P, etc) back to the city to the tune of about $110,000 annually; the city would lose those dollars that come back into the budget. In essence, the city would still have some of the costs, even if we didn’t have an Expo Center to help pay them.

We need to consider additional revenue options to make the Expo Center an even more attractive place. We should approach King County for parks levy funding. As voters, we just passed a new King County Parks levy—we pay for it, yet there is not a King County park anywhere near Enumclaw. We pay King County park taxes, yet there is very little benefit coming back. Marymoor Park is similar to the Expo Center and receives lots of King County of funding. I think we need to reach out to King County and at least investigate the possibility.

Krebs: Earlier this year, city administration presented a flawed study to council regarding supposed benefits from the Expo Center, which was based on an unrealistic comparison to the ShoWare Center in Kent. It would be highly irresponsible for council to take action regarding the Expo Center based on irrelevant data. Presuming, as stated in the question, that actual budget data shows that the Expo Center costs the city’s general fund an estimated $40,000-60,000 per year, that is approximately the same amount as half the salary of a full-time police officer. The city can’t expect citizens to subsidize the Expo Center, as this was a guarantee given to the citizens of Enumclaw by the council at the time of acquisition of the center. In addition, all the crucial services the city provides, such as parks, police and water, compete for limited city resources. The Expo Center is one of many city services whose impact to the city budget must be considered when making decisions regarding its future.

Hoke Overland has criticized my record on council, inaccurately. He has no record to speak of as he has never served the city of Enumclaw in any capacity.

• Position No. 5: Tom Mann and Juanita Carstens.

Question 1:  Are you willing to raise taxes to fix our streets?  (This can be done using councilmatic bonds and not going to the public for a vote.)

Mann: I haven’t had to opportunity to participate in the city budget negotiations yet, so at this point, I don’t have first hand knowledge of how much money will be dedicated the street fund. I do think more savings could be gained by implementing additional lean processes and/or eliminating duplications in services and consolidating department administrations. It is true, the recently formed Enumclaw Transportation Benefit District does have some ability to raise taxes and impose vehicle license fees without a vote. However, I do not think that the City Council should unilaterally implement tax increases without a vote of the people. I think city leaders should advertise and host multiple town hall meetings to thoroughly explain all options and seek input from the citizens of Enumclaw. I don’t think a public hearing notice in the newspaper classified ads followed by a meeting at city hall is adequate advertising or a proper venue to hold town hall meetings for such an important issue.

Carstens: Yes and no.  I would want to have a little more information in order to properly answer this question. By voting to increase a license tab fee or upping our sales tax (these do not need a vote from the public) I would want to know how much money this would bring in, how far would that money go towards fixing our streets, would it cover the worst of the streets, some or all.  Would it meet the expectation of our citizens or irritate them.  Would the gain be worth the loss of revenue to our businesses when they lose customers to other cities because the advantage of a lower tax in Enumclaw is what brings them here? Example - car dealers. Would that loss of less sales equate to a loss of revenue to the city, if so how much?

 

Question 2: Should the city give the Expo Center to the school district, or should the city stay the course with the current plan of renting the venue to different groups and events?

Carstens: I’m confused a bit on this question.  I have heard nothing about giving the Expo Center to the School District.  The numbers show that it is not making a profit or breaking even.  However, the city administration, the council, as well as our Expo manager are working diligently in all different directions to remedy this problem. How about we quit complaining about how it’s run and submit some ideas. We are fortunate to have extremely talented creative people who live in and around our community. I have heard a lot of suggestions around town that need to be submitted to the people that can make it happen. Let’s get a city-wide brainstorming session going and see what can be penciled out. If events pencil out profitably let’s see where we are a year from now.  It takes a village!

Mann:  No, stay the course.

Question 3: The council has said repeatedly that the Expo Center has to be self-sustaining. Is this a realistic stance since costs to the general fund have diminished to $40,000-60,000/year and the Expo Center generates millions of dollars of merchant business and thousand [sic] of dollars in taxes as a result of the events from the venue?

Mann: Given the fact that three, possibly four, City Council positions will turn over as a result of the Nov. 5th election, I don’t think a newly elected council should be bound by the opinion of the previous council. I think it is reasonable to question the accuracy of the Expo Center economic impact analysis, which was prepared for the city by Community Attributes Inc. I believe the Expo Center serving as an economic engine for local businesses, most likely produced greater revenues for local business and the city than the report states. The multiplier effect or stimulus effect could be greater than the measurement used by Community Attributes Inc. As I stated in the preceding question, I believe we should absolutely stay the course, we cannot afford not to.

Carstens: Of course it has to be self sustaining.  Any monetary benefit to the City ( merchant dollars/taxes) is not a benefit if it takes money from somewhere else (city budget) to make up the difference.

• Position No. 3: Mike Sando

Question 1:  Are you willing to raise taxes to fix our streets?  (This can be done using councilmatic bonds and not going to the public for a vote.)

Sando: We should be looking at ways to fix our streets and I would be inclined to support efforts to improve infrastructure.  With that in mind, I would be hesitant to support an increase in taxes unless we have a solid improvement plan and seek to partner with other levels of government to leverage funding.  Our main streets are also state highways and we should look to share costs; to maximize every dollar we spend.  If we have a good plan that addresses our needs and keeps costs down, I believe the community would support it.

I think that bonds would be an effective way to fund improvements, but that would also need to be paid back over time.  We would need to make sure that any plan that uses bonds focuses on the short and long term.  Let’s be sure that improvements we make now can be maintained in the future because we will be paying for it over time.

 

Question 2: Should the city give the Expo Center to the school district, or should the city stay the course with the current plan of renting the venue to different groups and events?

 

Sando: I do not think the City should give the Expo center to the School District.  I would be open to new ideas, but I do not see how this is a reasonable idea for either entity.

The Expo Center is a great asset and the city should work to keep and improve it.

 

Question 3: The council has said repeatedly that the Expo Center has to be self-sustaining. Is this a realistic stance since costs to the general fund have diminished to $40,000-60,000/year and the Expo Center generates millions of dollars of merchant business and thousand [sic] of dollars in taxes as a result of the events from the venue?

Sando: Having a self-sustaining Expo Center should be a goal, not a requirement.  We should balance the general fund impact with the positive economic activity that benefits our businesses and community.  As long as we can assure the public that we are managing things well, and I believe we are, we should continue to work on moving forward.  The trade shows, festivals, and events like CreationFest and the Highland Games have been positive and we should seek more of them.

It is also important to factor the other benefits that the Expo center brings as a community and civic center—sure there isn’t a dollar amount that you can attach to it—but having a place to have the fair, a place for local teams to practice and play, and a place for organizations to have meetings and events is an important part of a thriving city.  It’s what makes Enumclaw cool.

 

• Position No. 1 Morgan Irwin

Question 1:  Are you willing to raise taxes to fix our streets?  (This can be done using councilmatic bonds and not going to the public for a vote.)

Irwin: While I do believe that any community has a responsibility to raise revenue for basic infrastructure development and maintenance I do not believe that our present situation calls for an increase in road revenue. Further I would be hard pressed to pass any increase in taxes without the full input of the community. Councilmatic bonds have a place in the governance of our city but they should be used only when time is of the utmost importance, not when the council wants something they don’t think the voters will pass.

 

Question 2: Should the city give the Expo Center to the school district, or should the city stay the course with the current plan of renting the venue to different groups and events?

Irwin: No the city should not give away one of its largest assets. Not a very political answer but it is what I believe. As to staying the course, that is more complicated. I have spent some time working with the former executive manager of the Puyallup fair grounds and with several Puyallup fair board members. Running a facility like the Expo Center is not an easy task but after meeting with experts I believe we can do a better job than we have in the past few years. As much as we need to avoid sinkholes in our annual budget the Expo Center is a great asset to the Enumclaw Plateau and I’m not ready to give up on it.

Question 3: The council has said repeatedly that the Expo Center has to be self-sustaining. Is this a realistic stance since costs to the general fund have diminished to $40,000-60,000/year and the Expo Center generates millions of dollars of merchant business and thousand [sic] of dollars in taxes as a result of the events from the venue?

Irwin: The Expo Center as discussed in the previous question is a difficult nut to crack. To deny that the facility is a huge asset to the community is not reasonable, to suffer through huge annual losses doesn’t make sense either. As a community we need to decide what the Expo Center means to each of us. There is of course the economic value the facility represents, which can be broken down into three categories, land value if we were to sell it, future cash flow if we continue to operate or lease it and tertiary value that visitors to the facility represent to Enumclaw and its businesses. All three of these values will need to be balanced against one another as we continue to consider the future of such a large part of our community identity.

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