Q&A: Joy Jones, running for Spokane City Council seat representing Northwest Spokane
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
With a lifelong history here in Spokane, I am the only candidate that has a keen ear for neighborhood issues combined with hands on experience assisting local businesses in the northwest district of Spokane. My educational background in Urban Planning has trained me to make long term plans for the benefit of the communities I have worked with. With this combination of experience, educational background, and history with Spokane communities, I know I have the essential framework needed to make responsible policy and land use decisions that will benefit all of Spokane today and for many generations to come.
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?
The city budget is a manifestation of our city’s values. We need to prioritize spending according to those values. As a neighborhood advocate I know our priorities in Northwest Spokane: public safety, fire, and a well maintained transportation infrastructure. 2012 will bring another round of budget issues, forcing city leaders to find a way to run Spokane more efficiently. I feel funded youth, arts and weights and measures departments are needed for Spokane to thrive and as a member of the city council, I will listen and act upon the shared values of the citizens of Northwest Spokane.
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?
Spokane’s high utility rates are a challenge, but because we are so close to Idaho, a B & O tax would make Spokane less competitive with Post Falls and Coeur D’Alene. Local businesses are at the heart of the Spokane economy, we want to encourage business in Spokane and we don’t want to push businesses to Idaho.
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?
The city of Spokane is in a tough place right now. I would support this law as long as it allowed the arbitrator to consider average household income and the city’s ability to pay. Right now the wage and benefits are based on “similarly sized cities” in Washington: Tacoma and Seattle. Both of these cities have a higher average household income than Spokane. It is only fair to have the arbitrator consider Spokane’s average household income in addition to the city’s ability to pay.
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?
The aquifer is the life blood of our community. It is connected to the river and the river is connected to the aquifer. For decades, our sewage has been diverted to the river every time it rains. If we do not act now, protecting our drinking water will just become more expensive in years to come. I would support an economically responsible plan to contain the sewage and keep it from entering the river untreated.
6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
With the city’s change to single stream recycling the amount of trash collected will decrease. The current alternatives to the Waste-to-Energy Plant are long-haul shipping to landfills outside of Spokane. With the price of fuel continuing to climb the cost of shipping our trash to a landfill would continue to increase as well. I do not have all of the answers, but I would like to look at ways to reduce our waste stream by encouraging more recycling. We can also encourage citizens to consider the packaging before buying a product. Product packaging accounts for a large portion of household trash.
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?
Historic preservation has been very good for the Spokane economy. We now have many great historic buildings available for businesses instead of sitting vacant for years. Tax incentives for condos and apartments are a good idea in areas of Spokane where the infrastructure is in place to support multi-family development. I would not encourage multi-family development in outlying neighborhoods like Indian Trail without the infrastructure in place to support such developments.
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?
A well run and well managed city will provide the best atmosphere for job creation in the private sector. The city’s permitting process needs to be more business friendly to encourage new investment in neighborhood business districts. I also strongly support smart economic development that strengthens local businesses like Greater Spokane Incorporated’s “Buy Local” campaign. This program provides a searchable database of local businesses and encourages consumers to “keep your neighbors working, keep your local economy strong, keep your community strong, and keep recycling your dollar!” In addition, the city needs to encourage living wage jobs by contracting with businesses that pay their employees a fair wage.
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 do not support the photo red cameras because I do not believe they make the intersections safer. Currently, there are some legal issues around the validity of the program due to electronic certification in Arizona. If the city council reauthorizes this program, we should honor the original agreement and use the funds generated for traffic calming. Neighborhoods really benefit from the traffic calming amenities provided through the photo red dollars. When revenue is supposed to support a certain project, the funds should only be used for that purpose, not diverted to the general fund.
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, I support the decision to have a full-time police ombudsman. I have had the opportunity to listen to ombudsman’s presentation and have read the associated reports. They have helped me to disseminate information about police activities with real statistics. He has also made some reasonable recommendations that would increase transparency. The ombudsman’s power to investigate is an important component for accountability.
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, in times of tight budgets and a reduced police force, the city needs to change its focus from smaller and petty crimes, to those such as violent crime, property crime, and white collar crime. These are the important issues to the citizens of Spokane.
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?
I value our public libraries and the benefit they provide to our community. Because of our current economic standing, a tax increase to keep them open and operational at the same level of Washington’s larger cities should be deferred to the voters.
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?
Spokane’s tree canopy is one of the city’s biggest assets. Trees add to property value, they help clean the air of toxins, and they assist in water storage by absorbing moisture when it rains and releasing water when it is dry. Through the NeighborWoods program, the city’s urban forester is working collaboratively with neighborhood volunteers and neighborhood advocacy groups to plant trees and educate the public about the value of a healthy urban forest. By partnering with neighborhood volunteers, the NeighborWoods program stretches the city’s urban forest dollars and grows our city’s tree canopy.
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 action plan is a road map for maintaining our quality of life here in Spokane. I support both of these because I care about my children’s quality of life and the quality of life for many generations to come. We need to ensure that we are good stewards of the earth.
15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
With the recent restructure of the water rates, more Spokane citizens will begin conserving water. Citizens of Spokane already know that watering the lawn in the heat of the day is not effective because the water evaporates before is soaks into the ground. Adding additional restrictions is unnecessary.
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?
The people of Spokane want well maintained roads. Historically, road maintenance was paid for by real estate excise tax, which has considerably decreased in the last few years, and yet we continue to drive on our streets. For Spokane to continue to provide safe roads, we need a dedicated fund to pay for preventative maintenance. Pavement maintenance can be done in a matter of days. Multi-month road construction projects hurt local businesses. If we can spend the $20 now to fund preventative maintenance we can avoid a much higher cost to tax payers and businesses in the future.
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?”
Funding for streets needs to include sidewalks and bike lanes. As gas prices continue to increase more individuals are looking for alternative methods of transportation. The last time gas reached $4 per gallon, more people began biking, walking, and using mass transit. This helped to alleviate congestion and decrease wear and tear on our roads. By having sidewalks, bike lanes, and well maintained roads, individuals will be more likely to use alternative methods of travel, stay healthier and stay safe. I would support a bond for streets if it also included an option for sidewalks and bike lanes.
18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
Many mid-sized cities around the country are rediscovering streetcars as a way to encourage economic development and increase connectivity. Connecting Gonzaga with downtown by streetcar, trolley, or bus is one way to support business development and tourism. I am interested in looking at various connectivity options for Spokane, with the final say given to the citizens of Spokane.
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 cannot build our way out of our congestion problems. Building bigger roads for cars is very expensive while adding a bike lane is a fraction of the price of widening a road. Every cyclist and every pedestrian on the street is one less car driving and contributing to congestion. The city has developed a city wide master bike plan that was put together with data collected by the bicycle advisory board based on routes that cyclist actually use. If we build bike lanes in accordance with the master bike plan, cycling will become more accessible for more people and we will have fewer cars on the road.
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?
Twenty lanes of freeway in a city the size of Spokane is an irresponsible expenditure of the citizens’ tax dollars. A mid-sized city does not need a 20 lane freeway. In addition, the East Central neighborhood has already been divided by the freeway and they lost a large portion of liberty park years ago with the freeway construction. It is important to balance the need for economic development in the North Spokane corridor with the needs of the East Central neighborhood.