Two City Council positions are up for grabs in Airway Heights, a fast-growing West Plains town not sure how fast it should be growing.
Three of the four candidates who survived September’s primary are making their first stabs at elected office in the Nov. 7 general election. All three say they’re good fits for the fiscally cautious council and not inclined to change its focus.
Newcomers Mark Schumacher, Leonard Bernsdorf and Gail Combs and council incumbent Brian Grady all support the city’s $1.7 million general obligation bond measure also on the November ballot.
If approved, the bonds would help pay for a larger sewer system to replace the dated, development-limiting lines the town has used for more than 40 years.
All four also suggest Airway Heights must continue weighing budget choices cautiously.
Some residents want to see growth and are willing to spend money to improve roads, add street lights and improve water and sewer service.
But, said city Administrator Mike Patterson, they’re not eager to pay for all those improvements with much higher taxes. The city’s tax rate is one of the lowest per capita in Eastern Washington, according to assessors’ records.
In the race for Council Position 1, incumbent Grady, 36, faces off against retired Air Force serviceman Schumacher, 43.
“We face increasing growth coming toward us from the city,” said Schumacher, a broadcast production student at Eastern Washington University.
“And we have to have a council that can work together and coordinate what happens (here) with the rest of the county,” said Schumacher, who serves on an Airway Heights planning advisory committee.
Grady, who runs a West Plains construction company, said he offers the kind of experience most residents prefer: bottom-line fiscal watchfulness combined with a go-slow, pro-growth attitude.
Grady has worked fairly well with the current council, backing Mayor Don Harmon’s approach of holding down costs this year and keeping money in reserve to prepare for anticipated expenses over the next four years.
Schumacher said he considers Grady a good council member.
“It’s a win-win situation for voters,” Schumacher said. “I think of it as good vs. better.”
For Council Position 2, former Airway Heights clerk Combs, 42, squares off against 46-year-old machine shop maintenance worker Bernsdorf.
Bernsdorf said he worries less about infrastructure, water lines and tax rates than about improving communication between government and residents.
“What I see (in government) is a little circle of friends who don’t get out and talk to the people,” Bernsdorf said.
From volunteering at the local community center, he has found a strong desire for a new teen center, a park for children living on the south side of U.S. Highway 2 and concern for senior citizens facing increased taxes, Bernsdorf said.
Combs is an account manager for an Airway Heights design firm and says she is committed to keeping the city friendly in the face of growth.
That can be done by working toward more efficiency and coordinated growth.
“Airway Heights needs to coordinate and build better rapport with other local agencies and cities,” she said.
Her primary goals, she added, are better sewer service, improved streets and more street lights “for more citizen safety.”
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