Q&A: Donna McKereghan, running for Spokane City Council seat representing Northeast Spokane
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
I have the more experience and education than any of the other candidates - in city and state governance, in business, and overall. I have a life-long record of community service (yes, even as a child) and this is what I love. Additionally, I’ve been active as a citizen, with the Spokane City Council for over two decades. I am known to many department heads, all past and present City Council members and most of the mayors in office since 1988.
BUDGET AND TAXES
2. 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?
For the most part, cutting current city services altogether is irresponsible. The city should be working with the State, private and nonprofit agencies and volunteer citizen boards and commissions to provide these important services. The State of Washington should be handling Weights and Measures, and we also need to address the problems created by the state’s many unfunded mandates more aggressively. However, we definitely need to serve our youth. Failure to do so would result in far more expensive consequences like increased crime, erosion in our educational endeavors and strain on families.
3. 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?
Absolutely not! First, while we’re trying to attract business to Spokane to expand the local tax base, this would act as a countermeasure. Second, we need to look much more closely at why our utility tax rate is so high compared to other areas. Third, I generally believe that if you give government more money, you run the risk of it being spent in ways that were not intended when it was originally allocated. Any reduction in these taxes should be returned to the ratepayers. Increasing local business taxes will not go very far in reducing the cost to ratepayers. We need to be looking at ways to trim these rates, not supplement them with more taxes. We need to increase revenues but taxing is not the way to do that.
4. 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. It opens the door to city government using funds for other projects and then claiming – legitimately – that it doesn’t have the money when it comes time for contract negotiations. I consider this to be an end-run around the collective bargaining process, despite the fact that the unions that represent our local firefighters and police officers have given recent concessions that indicate they understand the state of the current city budget and are willing to do their part to keep it balanced.
5. 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?
I don’t know of a better way to meet the demands of state law, this far into the problem. For now, we should consider a scale of increases so that those with the most need of sewage treatment pay higher rates than homeowners, for instance.
However, while there’s nothing we can do about the past, it is crucial that we look farther into the future to prevent continued problems in this area. One future solution would be to build permeable roads and as they come up for replacement, replace existing non-permeable surfaces with permeable, whenever possible.
6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
For now, yes. We’ve invested millions into building, maintaining and updating this plant and we need to work with what we have until we can implement a more cost-effective way to deal with our solid waste.
I have followed this issue since its beginning. It should not have been built without public support, it was built in a poor location considering that Spokane lies in a valley and was already struggling to meet air quality standards, and though Wheelabrator’s original contract provided for maintaining the equipment at no additional cost, we nullified that by falling for the sales pitch to update it. We have made a string of poor decisions concerning the WTE plant. It was time to stop making poor decisions years ago, and it is even more vital that we stop doing more of the same now.
7. Do you support tax incentives for historic renovation? Do you support tax incentives for building condos and apartments downtown and in certain neighborhood centers?
It depends on the particular incentives. How much? How long will they last? What benefit (financial and/or other) do we realistically expect to receive, in return? I support tax incentives to the extent that I believe they serve the public whose taxes may increase or, because of the fewer dollars in revenue accompanying tax incentives, may have their services trimmed or eliminated. I certainly do not favor cutting police officers so that we can build apartments downtown, for instance.
8. Many candidates are focused this campaign season on job creation. Should the city actively try to create jobs? If so, what should it do?
More than ever before, we need elected officials with clear vision today, working towards a bright future tomorrow. Building bike lanes is one example. They stimulate 20 percent more jobs than traditional roads.
However, the city does not create jobs; business does. The city’s involvement should be indirect and take the form of creating an environment that encourages the growth of quality jobs.
One example of this is the University District, which is an investment in our local economy. I was the Northeast Neighborhood lead on this project, providing input and protecting the interests of the impacted neighborhoods.
Businesses that locate in this area will create increased revenue in the form of sales tax. Educational institutions will provide more opportunities for citizens to improve their earning capabilities. But most importantly, they will all create jobs – in the environment planned and implemented by the City.
9. 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?
I support photo-red technology because it has been proven to reduce accidents at intersections. However, funds received from this project should be re-allocated only with approval from the public. Depending on how widespread the use of this technology becomes in Spokane and the amount of revenue it generates, I may eventually support diverting some of the funds, but traffic safety should remain the first priority for funds from photo-red technology.
10. 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?
I definitely support the decision to fund a full-time independent police ombudsman. Having recently completed an independent investigation, at the request of Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, of the Spokane County Sheriff Office’s Use of Force and Fatal Shooting policies and the shooting of Rev. Creach, in particular, I was reminded of one very important thing. Law enforcement is a culture with its own ways of doing things and reasons for doing them that private citizens sometimes do not understand.
However, I do not think the city should be picking up the whole tab. I believe that this office should be expanded into a metropolitan law enforcement ombudsman (not just a police ombudsman) with expenses shared by all the cities and counties in our area.
11. 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?
Filling our jails with low-level offenders, we now we need a bigger facility. However, I note that as our jails near capacity, one of the first types of arrests they suspend is for marijuana possession. This indicates that law enforcement already sees it as a low priority and citizens should do the same. While many consider marijuana to be a “gateway drug,” incarcerating people whose only offense is possession of marijuana is the more likely “gateway.” Placing them in jails with felons and repeat felony offenders is a good way to enculturate them into a life they would never have been exposed to, if not for their incarceration. Those driving under the influence of any drug should be incarcerated but it’s costing too much – both in terms of money and the actual creation of criminals to continue incarcerating so many.
LIBRARIES, PARKS AND ENVIRONMENT
12. 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?
Libraries are vital to a community but in this economy we cannot keep raising taxes. We need creative solutions. How many books are being checked out and to whom? Currently, the city and county have reciprocal agreements. If city libraries are more widely used by county residents than the reverse, we need to adjust our agreements, accordingly. Other non-residents pay $3.50 a month for a library card. Is that enough, given current non-resident usage? We need to look at the whole fee structure and research the disparity between Spokane and other large Washington Cities before we decide this issue.
13. 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?
First, we need to stop hiring so many consultants. We didn’t need a consultant to tell us how important our trees are. Our citizens say it again and again and in numerous ways. Instead, we could have used those consultant fees on our urban forest!
Education and community based programs are the best way to address this. Working with the School District, for instance, an “adopt a tree” program could be instituted for students. An “Urban Forest Foster Parent” program could be created for businesses and other organizations in which they adopt trees in a particular area and post a sign both there and in the window of their business.
There are a lot of environmentally conscious citizens in Spokane who would be interested in investigating and created such solutions. We should be encouraging them to do so rather than looking for more city revenues.
14. 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?
The sustainability plan is a statement of principles, not policies. My support of specific decisions made under the principles of this plan will have to be made in light of the actual details.
Yes, I support climate protection. But, should we spend more money on climate control or creating a better climate for jobs? The best solutions would do both. Increasing the number of trees in our urban forest, for instance, would help control our climate and create a more desirable location for companies to bring their business and their jobs.
Still, there are going to be some difficult decisions to be made on these issues Past decisions have often been narrow, short-sighted or made at the expense of other crucial concerns. One of the reasons I want to be on City Council is to bring my creative and critical thinking skills to the decision making process.
15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
I support limited restrictions. Lawns should be watered in the early morning hours, so those with underground sprinklers should be required to water at that time. Those who set sprinklers manually have a much larger challenge, and many of them would prefer underground sprinklers if they could afford them, so it doesn’t make sense to punish them for the fact that they cannot. On the other hand, there are also ways to regulate the time and length of time that sprinklers operate from hoses. I would support restriction to certain hours for those who have regulating devices (underground or otherwise), as well as searching for programs that would put more water regulating devices in the hands of citizens. They don’t want to pay any more for water than they need to pay, either. Specifically, I would look to develop such programs in concert with several of our environmental nonprofits.
16. 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?
I approve of a vehicle tab tax, but we also need to better protect our investment in roads so that they aren’t costing us so much to repair and replace. We need weight restrictions on some of our roads and we need to enforce them. I am also concerned about equitable taxation. Perhaps our photo red system could be adapted to catch the license plates of offending trucks. With this information, we could also track the owners of trucks that have high use in Spokane. They should be taxed accordingly because they do the most damage to our roads.
17. 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?”
I support such a bond – later, but not in the present economy. In fact, I think that such bond proposals should include a restricting index so that the funds are collected in a way that allows for cost of living and/or unemployment rates to trigger an exception/exemption mechanism if the city falls below that index, perhaps when considered together with individual factors but perhaps even lowering the taxes collected in those years, overall.
18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
Not at this time, but when the economy returns to the “boom” part of the “boom-bust” economic cycle, I think we need to invest in this incentive for businesses in the downtown core. I favor extending it into the University District and the Monroe Business corridor, as well. Once it’s in place, even in a limited place, I think it will naturally expand even farther – both in distance and in use by the public. But today may not be the day to build it unless it is clearly more cost efficient than existing public transit.
19. 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 support the installation of bike lanes in newly developed areas whenever new streets are laid or old ones are repaved. Just as receiving a failing grade anywhere else, the question isn’t whether or not there’s a failure but what can be done about it. I would accept the city’s “failure” rating but consider it in concert with possible solutions to the problem, most especially those used by our nation’s 15 most sustainable cities. (Seattle is 10th) However, I would also want to provide for unexpected eventualities such as major economic decline. We may need to have developers sign contracts to allow the easement for them but install them later if they aren’t financially feasible this year or next.
20. Current plans for the North Spokane Freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including on ramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration?
I am not in favor of large distributor/feeder systems. This one would take out hundreds of homes in an area where people can least afford to relocate. Plans for this system have changed periodically, so we need to fight to make sure that Spokane – not just her government but also her people – are more involved and that any plan definitely addresses the consequences that we will bear because of it. This includes concerns about our air quality and the fines we might face with emissions being so highly concentrated in a single area.