Candidates discuss issues at chamber forum

Four of six candidates for elected positions in Bonney Lake attended the Bonney Lake Chamber of Commerce elections forum Thursday.

Mayor Neil Johnson

Four of six candidates for elected positions in Bonney Lake attended the Bonney Lake Chamber of Commerce elections forum Thursday.

Shawnta Mulligan, James “Kelly” McClimans, Sr., Dan Swatman and Neil Johnson answered questions about business and development in the city, and how they plan to approach them in another term.

Mulligan is running against Donn Lewis, who was not able to attend, for City Council Position No. 6. She is a former software engineer who, alongside fellow council candidate and father McClimans, campaigned against Proposition No. 1, the April special election measure to form a taxing district for city parks. She said she wanted to redirect municipal government’s focus from generating tax revenue to the citizens and businesses driving the city.

“I’m very concerned,” she said. “When I went around to many businesses with my (children) passing out fliers to vote no against the park district, I was able to meet a lot of people who would be greatly affected by the tax and I just don’t want to see that in our town. Our community is valuable because city means country, and I would like for that to continue.”

McClimans is running against Swatman for City Council Position No. 3. McClimans is an engineer who moved to Bonney Lake approximately 14 years ago. In his opening statements he said he was concerned about the city’s rate of growth after witnessing north Los Angeles county cities like Lancaster and Palmdale “destroy each other” in competition for resources.

“We knew the people, through church and activities, who were making those decisions and trying to do it,” he said. “You get lost. You start with the right reasons, but you get trained by the association of cities, trained by the Master Builders Association, you get trained by your own people who are in the city to tell you how to do things. And you listen to that and you forget who you are and the decisions you make. And then you get to forget about the citizens and the businesses that are out there trying to make things work. I know I believe that’s what I saw, and it’s why I got involved.”

Swatman is the incumbent and serves as deputy mayor. An Oregon native and Navy veteran who was stationed in Oak Harbor, he moved to Bonney Lake in 1999, citing it as a city where he could afford a home close to the healthy economy of the Puget Sound.

“I work for British Petroleum as a systems engineer,” he said. “So I have the opportunity to go all over the world if I wanted to. But Bonney Lake seems to be the place I want to be.”

Swatman has a Master of Business Administration degree and is working toward a Master of Project Management. He said he believed the business community was the core driver of the city, due to the contribution of sales tax revenue to city funding.

Johnson is the incumbent candidate for mayor, running against Councilman James Rackley,who was not able to attend. He is running for a third and final term. Johnson was councilman from 2002 to 2005, when Bob Young was mayor. He said that during his administration, he worked to bring council members with differing ideas together and eliminate expensive staff turnover. Disagreeing with the idea that the city should not grow, Johnson said the government’s duty was to make sure it could keep up with inevitable population growth.

“(The) state says we should grow to 25,000 to 30,000,” he said. “In the next 10, 15, 20 years, that’s going to happen. So the key is whether we can we keep up with infrastructure, sidewalks and all those things. Today, we’ve done that and we’ll continue to work on that, but it’s all about our team and thinking of Bonney Lake first.”

What follows are the candidates responses to a series of questions from Chamber members and the editorial staff of the Courier-Herald. They have been summarized for clarity and space.

Question 1: What should the city do to promote business while still being judicious with public money?

• Johnson: “One thing about Bonney Lake is our infrastructure is pretty expensive. It’s true. We have high impact fees. If you don’t have impact fees, you can’t keep the infrastructure in place, you can’t grow the infrastructure to maintain the need. Because when you flush your toilet, you want it to flush; if you turn on the water, you want water.

“So we put the incentive program together for new businesses to come to the city of Bonney Lake, to reduce their traffic impact fees, reduce their water (expenses), reduce their sewer for a certain amount of time. And that’s led to 300 to 400 homes being built in the city of Bonney Lake today.”

• Swatman: “I would point out we’ve done some studies in the past of psychographics, of demographics. For possible people who want to move into the city, I think it’s important to have that information out there. We’ve partnered with the chamber on various things like that because businesses that want to move into the city want to know if they’ll be successful.”

• McClimans: “I think that incentives are really just a codeword to giving special privileges to certain businesses. You look at your fees and you look at what’s required to administer those things and those fees … seriously, you should be asking how much is enough.

“As a professional engineer and somebody who has been responsible for executing plans and developing plans and cutting costs, I know you have to look at things carefully, and you have to analyze them and you have to make those cuts. Those cuts usually involve people and that’s a hard thing to do.

“When you look at the cost for people to do business in Bonney Lake, we can definitely lower that cost.”

• Mulligan: “I was speaking with a builder talking about what the climate was in Bonney Lake and … he had mentioned there were certain policies in Bonney Lake that other jurisdictions just don’t ask for. I would really want to investigate those policies and find out what is really required. Are we adding extra things we do not need?

“(Regarding Eastown) is it the chicken or the egg? Will businesses come and help build Eastown or will the city build it and then have them come? I’m very concerned that making decisions like putting infrastructure in place where there’s nothing saddles the current businesses and people with a bill that’s not responsible.”

Question 2: What can city government do to promote businesses that are already here?

• McClimans: “To be honest with you, that’s a problem I would have to talk to all of you (business owners) about and find out where the city’s getting in the way.

“Promoting business in Bonney Lake, I think what you have to do is look at the demographics in our community, look at what we want and say this is where we’re going. Because there are going to be businesses that aren’t right for our community. And when they’re not right for the community, they’re going to go away. And there are going to be businesses that are right for the community. The problem that we have now is (whether) we really understand what the business climate is. Right now we’re changing the demographics of our community, introducing high density housing and when we change the demographics, it’s going to change the business climate.”

• Swatman: “I would agree with my opponent that we definitely need to talk to businesses, and we do that a lot. This facility we’re standing in today was the outcome of talking to the businesses and working through the regulations we have so we can let owners of businesses do these things without onerous fees. We have a special … allowance for people to expand within reason so that they can do that without having excess fees put on them.

“But now, if you’re going to bring in a new business, sure, you have to pay those impact fees. I know opposition is … trying to say there are special fees for special businesses, and that’s just not the way it works. The city government has to treat everybody exactly the same no matter what you want to do, however you want to do your business, you have to play by the same rules everybody has to play by.”

• Mulligan: “I have to agree with Dan and Kelly that it all starts with (businesses). I’d really like to clean up some of the policies that prevent you from doing what you know best. I’m concerned when the city directly competes with something the chamber is already doing like Shop Bonney Lake.

“I agree you can’t show favoritism (regarding) the law. But when you hang little carrots out and say if you pay more, we’ll get your permit done faster, I don’t think that’s OK. We should have a very efficient process for everyone no matter if they’re opening a chain or a tiny stamp craft store.”

• Johnson: “Currently, in the city of Bonney Lake, no one pays an additional permit fee for anything. Everyone pays the same fees.

“Today, if you were to call me, email me or email our community development department, you would get an answer. And if you want to have a meeting about a new business or a new opportunity, they would sit down with you and give you that. That’s the one thing we pushed when I became mayor… The best way to promote a business is to give them all information so they can open up and be smart about opening up.”

Question 3: How do you see the current state of jobs and the economy in Bonney Lake? And what is the role of city government in bringing in more jobs?

• Swatman: “It’s a difficult atmosphere out there, but I think it’s coming around a little bit. What I think the city can do is, frankly, stay out of everybody’s way. I am a small government kind of guy and a fiscally conservative type of person.”

• McClimans:  “Yes, is all I have to say about that one.”

• Mulligan: “I’m a small government type of person as well and I prefer Bonney Lake stay out of the way. But I think bringing new businesses here is very important, as well as affordable housing.

• Johnson: I’ve always been small government. I’ve always believed government should be run like a business and we’ve worked on that. It’s tough in government as you’ve seen on the state side and federal side, to run the government like a business because there’s a lot of different rules about being equal.

“The biggest thing that I can point out that we’ve done currently and that we continue to do is the Good Samaritan facility and Franciscan. (Those are) two facilities that bring a lot of jobs to the city of Bonney Lake and that we’ve worked with directly to bring here.”

Question 4: With the failure of the parks district proposition last April, how do you propose to build and fund the parks system?

• McClimans: “This comes down to what I call responsible planning. Building large systems, building capabilities for the citizens requires long-term planning.

“It would sure be nice to have some better recreational facilities, so how do we do that?

“We have, currently, a liability with the new city hall of $9 million, almost $10 million that we’re responsible for. We could let another bond, without going to voters, for $5 million to build a new facility but that would lower our bond rating. That’s not necessarily a bad idea if that’s all the money we’re going to need. Once we start to pay that off and show some responsibility, the bond rating will return. That’s a possibility. Is it in our long-term plan now? No. Should it be? We need to look at that. “

• Mulligan: “When the park district failed … it’s obvious that people who live here did not want what we (the against committee for Proposition 1) labeled a forever tax. But parks are seriously a priority and some of the people who we door belled had said (they) would have voted for a bond.

“I think we need to put it to the voters and if the voters don’t want it, they need to be the final word because the voters pay the taxes.

“I have a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old and I homeschool them, so I’ve got a lot of time at home with little kids. So a park would be really nice. But what’s responsible? Should we grow a park system so large that the current tax base and the projected tax base five or 10 years down the road can’t pay for maintenance?”

• Johnson: “The council and myself over the years have acquired open space at the WSU forest, the Moriarty property by Allan Yorke Park and worked with other groups to acquire space so that we can have future planning for parks. Today’s parks are sufficient for what we’re doing today. What we need to look at is … tomorrow and the next 15 and 20 years. Going to our parks, I see it all the time: they’re full.

“I think a bond is the right way to go. Let the people decide how we want to make it happen.”

• Swatman: “Clearly, the people didn’t want to pay an extra tax for a park district. Which is basically an evolutionary step for the city. The people didn’t want to make that extra step.

“The mayor touched on that bond issue, and we’ve always had that available to us. That’s the key to the trick of figuring out how to long-term fund those projects. It’s really why we (had the) tendency not to have a bond, to go out there and say, ‘Hey, this is great, we’re going to do this bond, build these field, and this will be fantastic.’ Well, guess what? Part of the plan is to have the ability to maintain these parks. You can do a lot of things with a bond, but a bond doesn’t last forever. It has a beginning and an end, and then what do you do when you have a facility that you have to maintain? You need a plan. The parks district was the avenue to do that. So we have to back up from where we’re at … and plan for a smaller system.”

Question 5: What would you see as an appropriate expansion of the city’s urban growth area?

• Mulligan: “To tell you the truth, I don’t know a ton about urban growth areas or annexation. I do know … when you grow and when you grow too fast, there’s a problem of infrastructure keeping up and providing services.

“I will approach that sort of question and those sorts of issues in a way I think is different from my opponent in that the evolution of a city does not mean that it gets bigger. I think what you do, you should do well and efficiently. Leverage the resources that we have.”

• Johnson: “The Growth Management Act, which was enacted by the state legislature, mandates all cities to grow at the same pace. They would like to have (a density of) eight units per acre. Bonney Lake, today, is about four units an acre. We’re probably one of the cities that get away with having larger lots.

“Way back when, when Lake Debra Jane where one of the candidates lives, they came to us because the Growth Management Act was trying to get us to change our density. And the city fought hard to keep their density as residential.

“The southern area, right now, yes we’ve studied it. Will we eventually annex that area? It’s up to the citizens over there. The city will attempt to let them annex in because right now we serve them. We have police officers who go out there and help Pierce County all the time, because Pierce County has no officers. They would remain on Tacoma Water and they have septics. So, really, all we would be doing is providing police service to that area.

“But we’re not going to go against state law and say no way are we going to look at annexation.”

• Swatman: “Probably one thing I’ve worked on forever is the UGA. It’s all about the plan for the future of the city of Bonney Lake. They refer to a southern UGA down there. There’s a big contention on whether it’s actually Pierce County or ours, or whether it’s actually two in the first place. What it amounts to is, Neil touched on that the state mandates cities grow. And we have to grow and we have to plan for that

“I live in a very nice neighborhood over almost on the lake and, you know, I don’t want multiplexes in my neighborhood. I fought for and won some legislation that prevented some short platting in Mr. McClimans’ neighborhood there because they wanted the larger lots. So we have to accommodate that growth somewhere.

“The UGA is definitely something they will be voting on at some point in time, and as the mayor did a great job of covering, they will come into the city and really the big thing in the house about the UGA is, there’s a lot of undeveloped property out there. Right now, Pierce County is using it as a piggy bank.

“Plateau 465 is is 465 acres of undeveloped property. All those fees… there… millions and millions of dollars worth of fees that Pierce County is looking at, and they want them. They have uses, and guess what? Their number one traffic issue is not the city of Bonney Lake, they want to put roadways in South Hill. I want those fees to stay around here and help our infrastructure around here.”

• McClimans: GMA, UGA, acres and acres of documents and planning, and we’re changing them all the time. The county changes them, the state changes them, we change them.

“If we want to grow in a responsible way, we need a long term plan and we need to look at what the GMA and the UGA says. But we also need a strategic plan to push back and say no: this is the character of our community. This is what the demographics are going to bring to the city for the business climate that we want. And we can do that on purpose, so we don’t need to just try to protect ourselves from the sprawl that occurs in other areas.

“Now here’s the giggle test with the UGA: How do you get to Bonney Lake? You get up here on 410, or you’re going to come up Rhodes Lake. We’re going to put thousands and thousands of more people on these roads? Really? That doesn’t pass the giggle test. But we’ve got to find a way. Right? That we’re going to move these people in and out of here and if we can’t move them out of here we need to look at how we’re going to grow. Are we going to push them out toward the mountain? Because coming up and down off the hill, all of these roads here, I don’t know about you but after doing a whole bunch of sign waving on 410 and there’s a lot of people coming up here at 5 o’clock at night and they wait at that light for longer and longer and longer. It doesn’t pass the giggle test, but we‚’ve got to find a way to do it.”

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