Q&A: John Waite, running for Spokane City Council seat representing Northeast Spokane
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
I am the only candidate in this race with 20 years experience operating a successful small business. During this recession, I have used innovative ideas to keep my business viable without laying off a single employee. I will employ that fiscal and social responsibility on City Council to build a sustainable budget.
My first priority is jobs – I will work hard to ensure Spokane is a great place for entrepreneurs to create the small business jobs that are key to a vibrant economy.
In this politically divisive era, I am a strong, unifying advocate for improving our community.
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?
We’ve already cut almost every service to the bone – we cannot count on layoffs to fix our budget situation. We should solve our budget shortfall by asking employees of the city to do what many citizens in the private sector have done: help prevent layoffs by forgoing expected pay raises (and in some places, taking pay cuts) in the next budget cycle.
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?
The utility tax is too high in Spokane, but the core problem is our unsustainable budget that causes the city to add extra fees to our utility rate. Our citizens cannot afford additional taxes right now, so we must find ways to reduce the cost of operating our city government.
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?
Yes. In order to build a sustainable budget, we must take a careful look at the factors considered for determining wages and benefits in union negotiations. We have proven as a city that we can prevent layoffs by asking our local firefighters and police officers to pitch in and sacrifice some of their well-earned pay – and preventing layoffs means preventing devastating loss and insecurity for families.
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?
No, I do not support any increased taxes in the next budget cycle because taxpayers simply cannot afford them. We need to work with the state to make sure these required projects are the most cost-effective solutions.
6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose of trash collected within Spokane?
Yes. The Waste-to-Energy Plant has proven to be much more expensive for taxpayers than initially projected. However, we cannot afford to build an alternative facility during a recession.
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?
No. I do not support tax incentives for businesses. We should offer a fair playing field for all businesses. Long-standing tax loopholes amount to an inequitable business environment and loss of tax revenue.
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?
The city needs to work as well as possible with the business community to create a healthy business environment. As a small business and commercial property owner, I have spent 20 years learning how the city works with small businesses and will take leadership in improving the process.
The city can reduce the red tape involved in starting and running a small business to make it easier for individuals to create jobs that add value to our community. One specific thing we can do is assign each business owner an “advocate” who can represent the individual at city hall and navigate the various business-related departments. This will increase the efficiency of city government while increasing the productivity of our local economy.
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 disagree with the use of the use of red light cameras as a means for generating revenue. If they do deter accidents, I would consider supporting their use to promote traffic safety. Although dedicated funds should generally be used as originally allocated, we must be willing to consider shifting funds during difficult times to ensure we are meeting the basic needs of citizens.
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?
Yes and yes.
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?
Yes. While it is important for the states and municipalities to comply with federal law, we have higher priorities as a city for use of taxpayer money.
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?
No. Library services are increasingly important to citizens as our economy struggles, and our libraries are currently underfunded. Access to Internet and print literature is essential to job access and social well-being for our citizens. The library is the only place they can access those things for free.
Library funding should come from the general fund. We must find ways to run city services without continually increasing operating costs.
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?
Tree planting in the city, while very important to quality of life, cannot be considered a financial priority for the city during an economically strained time. We can make the best use of our dollars by engaging in collaborative efforts between the city and the community to build and maintain our urban forest.
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?
Environmental sustainability plans are valuable to our long-term vision for our city. We must pursue environmental sustainability goals in an economically sustainable way. A signed agreement with a community outside Spokane might bear symbolic value, but is secondary to our local priorities regarding environmental issues.
15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
As an individual and in operating my small business, I take great pains to conserve energy, water and other resources. Use of water is not something the city can easily mandate and such a regulation would not be enforceable with our current economic constraints.
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?
No, I do not support the vehicle tab tax. We need to be looking at examples of similar-sized cities with similar weather conditions that are spending less money on roads and having better results.
Ultimately, our road fund should come out of the general fund, but I support changes in state laws that allow communities to find unique solutions to meet their needs.
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?”
No. Funding for street improvements and maintenance should come from our existing tax revenue, not through additional bonds. I do support using funding for street improvement dollars to include sidewalks and bike lanes to improve pedestrian and traffic safety.
18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
No. We don’t have the money to fund an extra transportation project right now. We do need a downtown loop for STA and our hybrid buses are a good investment in keeping down the cost and emissions of our public transit system. A bus route on the proposed trolley loop could be used to verify that we have adequate ridership demand for a proposed trolley.
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?
We have a number of tools for increasing cyclist safety on roads, including bike lanes, shared-use lane markings, bike boulevards and trails. Each street improvement project should be examined to ensure we are finding a workable solution. That solution must increase safety and consider cost-efficiency.
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 onramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration?
No. Twenty lanes seems like an excessive amount. The north Spokane freeway is already under construction; as we move ahead with this project, our highest priorities should be mitigating further damage to the East Central Neighborhood and ensuring that we maximize the freeway’s potential for contributing to the quality of life for our community.