Q&A: Barbara Lampert, running for Spokane mayor
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
Lived in Spokane on and off since 1954. Know this town and love it. Running a low-budget, “mini-reporting” campaign to show I know how to save money and use it wisely.
2. What is your top priority and how specifically would you work to achieve your top priority?
Top priority is to balance the city budget without reducing vital service or quality of life. Do it by eliminating one layer of administration, reducing pay of upper administration employees and freezing pay of other city employees. Improve downtown parking so businesses can compete with malls outside our city limits. Then city income will improve from sales tax.
BUDGET AND TAXES
3. Given the expected $7 million shortfall between the revenue the city expects in 2012 and the amount needed to maintain current services, should the city maintain a youth department? Should the city maintain an arts department? Should the city maintain a weights and measures department? Are there other city services that you would consider eliminating?
Yes, we need a youth department for quality of life. Yes, we need an arts department to maintain and enhance culture. Yes, we need the weights and measure department to protect consumers. All city services are important. They should be reduced and not eliminated. Reduce them by making their organization less top-heavy.
4. Do you support increasing hotel taxes to help balance the budget?
No, increased hotel taxes make hotels outside city limits have an advantage. Then city income from hotel taxes will decline.
5. Spokane has one of the highest utility tax rates in the state. Would you consider implementing a local business and occupation tax, as many cities in western Washington have done, as a way to lower the utility tax or other city taxes?
No, our current tax structure is best for us. Business and occupation tax will drive jobs and employment from Spokane.
6. Do you support collective bargaining rights of government employees?
Yes, government employees deserve citizenship rights of collective bargaining.
7. The city recently has lobbied the Legislature to amend state law regarding binding arbitration so that if contract negotiations stall between the city and a union representing firefighters or police officers, an arbitrator could consider additional factors when setting wages and benefits, such as a city’s ability to pay and to maintain a reserve fund. Do you support this change to state law?
No, we have too many laws already. Negotiate in good faith and avoid going as far as arbitration.
8. City officials increased sewer charges by 17 percent last year and predict more increases the next few years in large part to pay for nearly $650 million for projects required by the state to improve sewage treatment and prevent untreated sewage from spilling into the river. Do you support sewage fee increases that could top 10 percent in each of the next couple of years? If not, what would be your preferred alternative?
Yes, untreated sewage is not an option. City life is expensive. Get another job, double up in your living space, or find a cheaper place to live.
9. City leaders decided last year to change the city’s water rate structure to lower the rate paid by customers who use less and increase the rate paid by users of more water. Do you support this concept?
Yes, it will encourage careful use of a limited resource.
10. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
Yes, Waste-to-Energy Plant is a good way to control trash.
11. Do you support tax incentives for historic renovation? Do you support tax incentives for building condos and apartments downtown and in certain neighborhood centers?
No, let the free market control these financial decisions. No, special incentives are expensive.
12. Do you support the use of tax-increment financing?
The explanation of “tax-increment financing” that I received says taxpayers pay for the infrastructure at a new development. The developer is not financially responsible to bring the area up to code. Supposedly this encourages new development.
In our capitalist system, profit is necessary. A development should be profitable as it stands. Special incentives to create questionable developments are not a good use of taxpayer funds, in my opinion. A level playing field will make it possible for the most capable entrepreneurs to develop our city lands.
13. Many candidates are focused this campaign season on job creation. Should the city actively try to create jobs? If so, what should it do?
Yes, full employment is an important quality of life issue. The city should maintain infrastructure and provide a level playing field for employers.
14. Where should the city allow the construction of large retail stores, such as Target or Walmart, within city limits?
Large retailers should be allowed where they do not violate zoning codes.
15. Do you support the use of red light cameras? If so, do you support diverting ticket revenue from a fund for traffic safety projects to help balance the budget?
Yes. Yes, the balanced budget is the priority.
16. Do you support the decision to have a full-time police ombudsman? Do you believe that the ombudsman should have the authority to conduct independent investigations into alleged police misconduct?
No, the ombudsman is a duplication of effort. No, there are already enough checks and balances on police conduct.
17. Would you support a law, modeled after a law in Seattle, to make misdemeanor possession of marijuana by an adult the city’s lowest enforcement priority?
Yes, let’s enforce property crimes.
18. The Spokane Fire Department’s goals for response times (arrive on scene within 8 minutes and 30 seconds 90 percent of the time) are significantly lower than standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (arrive on scene within 5 minutes 90 percent of the time). Given the city’s budget problems, do you have proposals to improve response times?
We should strive to improve Fire Department response times. We could make the Fire Department organization less top-heavy. Then we could add frontline employees to the Fire Department staff. They could help improve response times.
19. Given the recent finding of a bomb placed along the annual route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in Spokane, what should be the role of the city’s Human Rights Commission?
Human Rights Commission should support adding 100 uniformed officers to our police force. They should also provide a highly visible public education campaign about equality and civil rights and the unacceptable nature of hate.
LIBRARIES, PARKS AND ENVIRONMENT
20. Spokane’s library system offers significantly fewer hours than many of the 20 largest cities in Washington. Would you be willing to ask voters for a tax to boost this service as was requested earlier this year by the city library board?
No, we don’t need another tax. Libraries should be open 24-7. There should be a donation jar at each checkout counter. People would give plenty if it was possible to do so. Currently, only the rich are invited to give at fancy fundraisers.
21. Do you support closing the East Side or other branches to help balance the budget?
No, do not close any library branches. Eliminate some administration personnel. Reducing top-heavy organization structure will free up some money for operating expenses.
22. A consultant hired by the city to review city services in 2006 said that the city was not investing enough in its urban forest. Should the city do more to plant and maintain street trees. If so, how?
Yes, the urban forest needs continuous attention. Remove old and dead trees. Plant young and cute baby trees. With a proper rotation, we will have babies and shade trees interspersed at all times.
23. Do you support the sustainability plan promoted by Mayor Mary Verner, which was adopted by the Spokane City Council in 2010? Do you support the decision of former Mayor Dennis Hession to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement?
24. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
No, regulating water hours is discriminatory to those who must work for a living on a difficult shift.
25. Most city officials say that the street department has not been adequately funded to properly maintain city streets once they are reconstructed. This year, the City Council approved a $20 vehicle tab tax to boost street funding. Do you support this decision? If not, would you support a change in state law to allow the city to create a street utility fee that would be charged on city trash and water bills?
Yes, vehicles are a luxury. Those who drive a vehicle should help pay for the streets. Everyone needs trash and water service, even those who can’t afford the luxury of a vehicle.
26. The city has nearly completed the projects it promised voters in the 2004 street bond. Would you support asking voters for a new street bond of a similar or greater scope? If so, should the bond include money to pay for sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees or other street improvements besides pavement from “curb-to-curb?”
Yes, we need a subsequent street bond. Yes, we should increase the scope of our street bond to improve quality of life.
27. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
No, we do not need public transit only in central Spokane. We need a comprehensive public transit system for all of Spokane County.
28. Where should the city install bike lanes? Would you be willing to support the installation of a bike lane on a street if the city engineer determined that doing so could cause an intersection to earn a “failing” rating for car traffic congestion?
Bike lanes should be comprehensive in our city. Yes, the “failing” rating will be temporary. More people will ride bikes and car congestion will decrease.
29. State leaders have said that local funding may be needed to pay to finish the North Spokane Freeway. Do you support the completion of the North Spokane Freeway south of Francis Avenue to Interstate 90? If so, would you be willing to support local taxes, fees or tolls for the freeway?
Yes, the North Spokane freeway should be completed. No, we should pursue federal, state or private grants to finish the freeway.
30. Current plans for the North Spokane Freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including onramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration?
I am not a civil engineer. I defer to the expert’s opinions. I would, however, ask as a laywoman: “Would it be possible to have less than 20 lanes?”