Q&A: David Condon, running for Spokane mayor
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
I will provide the strong leadership necessary to solve the City’s most challenging issues. It’s time for a wakeup call at City Hall. City government can no longer afford to spend more than it earns. My background in finance, the military, small business and government service has prepared me to set priorities for city government and to get results. The city is trying to do too many things and spending too much money.
2. What is your top priority and how specifically would you work to achieve your top priority?
Growing and retaining local jobs will be my top priority as mayor.
Our first step in building a better jobs climate must be to put our own house in order by solving the city’s structural budget gap. The cost of city government is growing faster than our citizen’s ability or desire to pay for it. Pay raises and nearly free health care coverage for city workers is unreasonable in this economic environment. We must implement an immediate short-term wage and hiring freeze while we evaluate our options, modernize labor contracts and eliminate non-essential or non-revenue-generating operations.
Second, I will be an ambassador to businesses both here and across the country, encouraging them to grow jobs in Spokane. Working at Congress, I helped maintain the jobs at Fairchild Air Base during the BRAC process.
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?
The City should focus taxpayer resources on core services. Citizens have identified public safety and streets as their top priorities. The city should consider partnering with other community organizations to delivery services outside the scope of the city’s charter. It is possible that these services could be delivered by other organizations more efficiently or at a lower cost. If city government spent less time arguing with the county and other local municipalities, we could save money with regional solutions.
4. Do you support increasing hotel taxes to help balance the budget?
No. Now is not the time to increase taxes. Random tax and fee increases ignore the real issue. The city has many opportunities to address the budget shortfall before continuing to raise taxes and fees.
Tax increases tell employers that Spokane is a bad place to invest and to hire. We should not raise taxes without voter approval. The city has already raised nearly every tax and fee it has the ability to raise (building permits, business licenses, utility rates, utility taxes, even public records requests) and the budget problem is the same each year.
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. Protecting a healthy business climate is critical to our future economic success. Asking business to pay for the city’s ineffective leadership is not the answer. Stronger city leadership will make our departments more efficient, bringing down costs to the taxpayers.
6. Do you support collective bargaining rights of government employees?
I respect the right of workers to collectively bargain. But the current mayor has been giving away the store. City workers have generous salary, benefit and pension packages while the city is drowning in red ink. I intend to be a fair, but tough, negotiator.
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?
I support changes in arbitration rules. The AWC took the lead for this legislation, not the current mayor. Municipal governments must have the flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions with the aim of preserving as much of the workforce as possible. Giving municipal governments the flexibility to manage within the limits of the economy and/or citizens’ desire to pay for services allows for some options besides cutting workforce.
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?
The City’s utility rate increases are excessive. While the city has significant interest in improving water quality, the citizens of Spokane should not bear all of the cost of state- and federally-mandated water quality measures.
The current mayor has taxed funds each year intended for sewage treatment in order to pay for general government overhead. That was irresponsible and has led to the higher sewer charges. The tax on the Rate Stabilization Fund should be rescinded to lessen the increase.
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?
The punitive plan to change the water rate structure will cost the majority of city water users more this summer. This is unacceptable; a misguided attempt to legislate behavior.
Investing in water use education and making conservation easy and understandable is the right approach. The city should begin by shoring up its own use/waste of water.
10. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
Yes. The WTE Plant is a regional asset that should be used for regional benefit. The WTE generates revenue each year for the City of Spokane and if it receives renewable energy designation it will be even more lucrative.
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?
Yes. All incentive programs should be judged according to whether they meets the city’s best interests including eventual increases in property and sales tax revenue.
12. Do you support the use of tax-increment financing?
Yes. Partnering with the private sector promotes and accelerates economic growth. When the city chooses to defer short-term revenue in favor of infrastructure development that accelerates job growth and builds both long-term property and sales tax growth, it is a win-win. TIF areas must be appropriately defined in order to ensure meaningful TIF revenues necessary for infrastructure investment.
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. The private sector creates jobs and the city can be either a great partner or a troublesome impediment. Accelerating infrastructure projects (within existing budget) in key areas to help catalyze private development is a great example of municipal government participating in economic development.
Providing fast, friendly and affordable services to Spokane business also facilitates their ability to grow jobs in the region.
14. Where should the city allow the construction of large retail stores, such as Target or Walmart, within city limits?
Through its planning process, the city should work with neighborhoods to ensure appropriate placement of retail space. Retail sales tax pays for a large portion of the cost of city services.
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. Red light or speed cameras are appropriate where they can demonstrate a positive impact on traffic safety, but the funds should not be diverted from traffic safety projects.
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?
This is another example of the mayor’s poor leadership. The ombudsman should have independent investigative authority. We need to restore trust and confidence in law enforcement in part by partnering with the police and giving the police ombudsman, as well as police officers, the tools they need to be effective in his job.
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?
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?
This is an example of critical city services being stretched too thin because the city is trying to do too many things, many of which are low priorities. The Fire Department is being stretched thin in terms of geographic coverage and because they dispatch fire assets to non-fire emergencies. Currently the city rolls fire assets to non-fire emergencies that could impact response time. The city’s Fire Department also covers a massive geographic area. Perhaps regional service delivery or partnering with neighboring jurisdictions would positively impact response time in outlying areas.
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?
The Human Rights Commission is an important organization and should have an active advisory role to elected officials in the city. The Human Rights Commission should continue its focus of making policy recommendations and programming against unjust discrimination.
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?
A regional approach to library service delivery should be evaluated as a possible alternative to shrinking services. I am concerned about going to the voters without having carefully evaluated our options and trimmed overhead costs.
21. Do you support closing the East Side or other branches to help balance the budget?
Branch closure is a last resort to solve budget dilemmas. I believe we should first audit all expenditures to look for other savings.
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?
The City should optimize current budget for urban forestry. The Matrix report had many recommendations that have been largely ignored by the current administration. City development guidelines currently require tree placement for most new development or significant changes to existing buildings. The city should use those guidelines to partner with citizens to improve the City’s urban forest.
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?
There are elements in the sustainability plan that warrant further evaluation. In addition to energy and the environment, sustainability must include a sustainable budget.
I would not have signed the Climate Protection Agreement, on the grounds that the mayor of Spokane should be focused on local governance, not partisan, national issues.
24. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
No. The city should support education programs that help citizens make smart choices about water use. The city should more closely manage its own water use and be able to demonstrate its effective use of this resource.
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?
No, we should have gone to the voters for approval. Long-rage, voter-approved funding for streets is a key priority.
This is another example of Mary Verner’s lack of leadership on a key issue, by ignoring the larger issue in favor of taking the easy route with a small, short-term fix. The city should have worked with regional partners for a more comprehensive regional solution to street investment. Citizens have been supportive of street financing in the past and are likely to be again if the investment is guaranteed to produce results as they did in the last street bond.
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, asking the voters for approval is the right approach and the voters should decide which elements they want to pay for.
27. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
No. Not until the economic impact is fully understood and all funding models have been evaluated. New transportation investments that drive economic return make good sense.
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?
I understand the importance of having a safe and functional roadway for bikers to use. However, bike lanes should not force the removal of curbside parking near in our downtown business core. Bike lanes should only be placed when they are economically feasible and do not adversely impact businesses.
And no, I would not support the installation of bike lanes that would cause an intersection to receive a failing rating for traffic congestion.
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 will be an economic driver as well as an environmental enhancement. Improving freight mobility and relieving surface street congestion is a win/win for Spokane. What portion of the state and federal infrastructures should be funded by local investment is something that needs to be negotiated with the state and our regional neighbors.
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?
State DOT professionals should examine alternatives with regional partners, city government, and adjacent neighborhoods to limit impact while maintaining traffic flow.