What did you think about the answers to three questions in last week’s Courier-Herald from the City Council candidates? Dennis Box, the managing editor, and I felt it was important to show our readers whether the candidates possessed the skill of critical thinking by answering difficult political questions. They were asked to comment about the direction the city of Enumclaw should take in regard to fixing our streets and utilizing the Expo Center. The candidates had to work hard to formulate solutions. City officials and school district staff were contacted for answers.
I’ve answered the questions myself because, since I don’t face the voters in the polls, I have no agenda. My hope is that my perspectives will help you, the voters, to make the best choices for the city council.
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.)
This question was probably the hardest one for the council candidates to answer. Publicly advocating a tax increase is currently tantamount to committing political suicide. Almost all the responses stated they would go to the public for a vote to raise taxes. That was the politically correct answer and accurately reflects the mood of voters in the nation, but it is not the type of government we have. We have representative government.
What do we need a council for if every decision was subject to a citywide election? The reason we elect representatives in the first place is because the issues are often very complex and require more time and study to find the best solutions.
A street study ordered by the city and done six to seven years ago strongly warned that the longer streets were allowed to run down, the costlier it would be for the taxpayers to fix them.
The council has avoided investing in streets for most of the last five years because they were afraid of the public’s wrath over increased taxes. The council also resisted going into debt to fix them because they feared they could not pay it back due to slumping city income during the recession. These were valid concerns, but in my opinion, short-sighted. The best and honest answer is for the council to think in the long term. What approach towards streets costs the least money? The least costly approach is constant maintenance. Well-maintained streets also raise property values.
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?
Giving the Expo Center to the school district was hypothetical. It was meant to cause candidates to think out of the box. Some got stuck on the question.
One council candidate said it was probably illegal to give the Expo Center to the school district. I was surprised by this response since the city already virtually gave the football stadium to the school district two years ago by leasing it to them. No legal issues came as a result.
Many of the candidates noted that the Expo Center is a great asset. It also takes time and resources that could be used for core services like police, streets, and building maintenance. King County gave us the Expo Center to rid itself of a huge money drain. Maintaining those buildings is extremely expensive. The county wasn’t doing us any favors. They let the facility run down before they gave it to us. Giving the city $2 million to develop it was a cheap way of getting out from under a very expensive property.
Question 3: The council has said repeatedly that the Expo Center has to be self-sustaining. Is this a realistic stance since the costs to the $2 million reserve fund from the county have diminished to $40,000 to 60,000 per year? The Expo Center generates millions of dollars of merchant business and thousands of dollars in taxes as a result of the events from the venue.
The city over the last 2.5 years worked very hard to cut costs by bringing in shows and events to attract crowds who would then also shop in city stores, increasing revenue, both for the city and the retailers. Reserve funds were used to improve the facilities and make it more attractive as a venue. Yearly costs were cut from $250,000 per year to $60,000 last year. Unfortunately, according to city administrator Chris Searcy, for every $13,000,000 raised through increased sales, the city gains about $100,000 in tax revenue. While the additional money helps businesses, $100,000 doesn’t go very far when fixing city streets – we need several million dollars to bring the streets up to acceptable level.
CreationFest brought $60,000 into the city each year, helping the city to increase revenues. Unfortunately CreationFest has just announced it is leaving, which means Expo reserves will be depleted by $110,000 a year instead of only $60,000. Of course, the candidates did not have this information when the question was posed.
It’s time for the city to think of handing the Expo Center off to a business that can run it. We successfully did this with the golf course. The city would just collect rent without the hassle of maintaining it.