Here is the final installment in a series of reports in which Spokane Valley City Council candidates address issues in their own words.
All the candidates were asked the same questions. They were given a maximum of 1,100 words, to be distributed as they pleased.
Unlike previous reports that featured opponents, this one gives the views of two candidates, Gary Schimmels and Tom Towey, who are running unopposed.
Their answers round out voters’ information about what the City Council might do next year.
Towey, 66, is a retired Washington Trust Bank transaction auditor and longtime Rosauers supermarket manager. He is running for the seat being vacated by Dick Denenny.
Towey is a lifelong Spokane Valley resident who directed the sheriff’s volunteer Incident Response Team and was president of Central Valley and University SCOPE organizations. SCOPE stands for Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort.
Towey ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign two years ago for the City Council position that Steve Taylor vacated June 30 to become city administrator in Connell, Wash.
Taylor and Denenny unsuccessfully opposed Towey’s appointment in December to the city Planning Commission. Barring a successful write-in opponent, Towey will advance to the City Council and will have to resign from the Planning Commission.
Schimmels, 71, has served on the council since Spokane Valley was incorporated in 2003. He is a retired business owner with a background in construction and heavy equipment.
He and Towey are aligned with a “Positive Change” slate of candidates that seeks to replace three council members. The group opposes the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan and contends city spending is excessive.
Both Schimmels and Towey have endorsed Republican state Sen. Bob McCaslin, Brenda Grassel and Dean Grafos against incumbents Rich Munson, Diana Wilhite and Ian Robertson.
Question: What in your education or experience qualifies you to represent Spokane Valley residents?
Schimmels: Lifetime experience in heavy equipment sales, service and actual labor on site. Served as construction foreman, superintendent and owner for over 30 years. Parts department and inventory control. Former owner and operator of Affordable Lock, nine years. Consolidated Irrigation District, 29 years. Have served on Spokane Valley City Council past seven years.
Towey: I have lived in the Spokane Valley all my life. I was employed with Rosauers for 32 years and managed four of their stores, all but one located in the Valley. I bring to the council my experience managing a multimillion dollar budget as well as being a life long resident with community activity involvement. I am currently on the Regional Health District Steering Committee on Fall Prevention for Senior Citizens, also I am a current member of the Spokane Valley Planning Commission.
Q: As a City Council member, would you vote to place disincorporation before voters? Why, or why not?
Schimmels: No! Does not apply to today’s situation.
Towey: Only as an absolute last resort. I have the utmost respect and admiration for those citizens who got involved in their local government. The disincorporation movement had their due process and came up short. Whether you were for or against disincorporation, now is the time for all Valley residents to work together for a positive future of our city.
Q: Would you keep or overturn the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan? What about letting voters decide? Do you think they would confirm the plan or scrap it?
Schimmels: The economic situation we will be facing for the next five years or longer should signal an overturn for the plan. Voters would likely agree to overturn or reduce the zoning proposed. In essence, we have an unfunded mandate regarding the SARP at this time.
Towey: In my opinion, SARP is an unfunded mandate to the citizens of the Spokane Valley. SARP has many components which are unfunded and unfair to the business and residents along the plan corridor. I would have joined Councilman Gary Schimmels and Councilwoman Rose Dempsey in voting no to the SARP Plan. In these economic conditions and current immediate priorities, I think the citizens would vote no on the SARP plan at this time.
Q: If you want to scrap the plan, how would you revitalize Sprague and reduce the number of vacant commercial buildings?
Schimmels: Regroup the property owners, business owners and form a task force to solve this problem. Private enterprise can succeed with the help of the city!
Towey: I would look into providing start-up short-term tax incentives for businesses moving into the Sprague-Appleway corridor. I would also consider reversing the recent zoning changes that adversely affect businesses and private sector investment along Sprague Avenue.
Q: Do you favor the city’s policy of hiring contractors whenever possible to provide municipal services? In particular, what about the city’s contract with Spokane County for police service?
Schimmels: Absolutely! Public safety in all of its reach in Spokane County is still the most affordable service available at the cost.
Towey: At this time in our city’s history I think it is prudent to contract out for some services. When examining police services, there are two things to consider: cost of contract vs. performance of service. In my opinion, we have one of the best police services in all of Washington state. Public safety should be the No. 1 priority of any city and as such the expenditure of such service should be compatible.
Q: The City Council passed a 6 percent telephone tax to help pay for street maintenance, but says it’s not enough. What would you like to do?
Schimmels: This is not a dollar issue. Further taxes are needed to support our streets and related infrastructure. The driving public will have to weigh in heavily in these support areas. This is a very important long-range issue. We cannot continue to hide from street maintenance. The roadways are on a parallel with public safety as a priority.
Towey: I understand the reason for the Band-Aid approach (6 percent utility tax) to the street maintenance shortfall, but I disagree with the process. I believe any tax levied upon the citizens of the Spokane Valley should be voted by the people. We need to study and find a sustainable revenue source of our street maintenance shortfall.
Q: The city is running short of money for its program of full-width street repaving after sewer construction. What would you do?
Schimmels: We cannot continue to look across the fence or mountains for funds. We have two more years of this type of sewer construction regarding full-width restorations. Being good stewards of our available funds and possibly finding grant monies will help solve this problem.
Towey: Full-width street repaving should be one of our top priorities. I would consider transferring monies from other sources to accomplish this.
Q: Spokane Valley’s best-paid employee, City Manager Dave Mercier, will earn $166,102 this year. Are city officials paid too much, too little, just enough?
Schimmels: They have assumed a level of expectancy for their service, which is equal or better than the private sector. The (fringe) benefits are always greater.
Towey: Two years ago, The Spokesman-Review printed a department heads salary comparison between the city of Spokane (2,000 employees) and the city of Spokane Valley (90 employees). Based on the number of city employees and their responsibilities, our city department managers and city manager appear compensated considerably more than other cities. Note: In the city’s proposed 2010 budget, the city manager’s monthly pay is “unclassified.”
Editor’s note: Towey refers to a section of the budget listing the salary ranges for jobs that are “classified.” No salary range is listed for the city manager, who is paid under a contract negotiated with the City Council. All city salaries are subject to public disclosure.
Q: Would you prefer an elected mayor instead of an appointed city manager to control the city’s day-to-day affairs, as in Spokane? How about a Spokane-style ward system for the City Council?
Schimmels: Elected mayor vs. city manager: My decision is to leave our system of weak mayor and council as is for another term or more and then decide. An elected mayor often hires a city manager. Take out the politics and let the city manager manage. The ward or district system of representation is OK for the larger cities, maybe not for the smaller cities.
Towey: I prefer the present council-manager system (weak mayor system) at this time. I would like to see a ward system for the city council.
Q: Should Spokane Valley build a new City Hall at the University City Shopping Center, buy the building it now rents or do something else? Should it continue paying rent?
Schimmels: No on City Hall at U-City for now. The current City Hall site could serve us for another 10 years or so. Purchase of the property is possible. Location is excellent, expansion is possible and at this point we could not service any further debt!
Towey: No, I don’t think the city should build a new City Hall at U-City. Some current members of the city council have a “vision” that is not “reality” in these hard economic times.
Q: What are the city’s best accomplishments?
Schimmels: Parks, pools, road maintenance, street construction, CenterPlace, new city (most all systems on board), and Barker bridge construction.
Towey: Upgrading our pools and parks. Developing an emergency “pandemic” plan of action.