The Spokesman-Review

Q&A: Luke Tolley, running for Spokane City Council seat representing Northeast Spokane

1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?

I am a leader in Northeast Spokane. I have real experience working with the neighborhoods in our district as Neighborhood Council President, Community Assembly Representative, Greater Hillyard Business Association Board Member, a business owner and a non-profit organizer. I am dedicated to making our community a better place. I believe Council people should be more than just legislators and if elected I will continue to be a leader inside and outside City Hall. Northeast Spokane deserves a positive leader who believes in customer service and diplomacy, who is motivated by duty and dedication to 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?

The elimination of departments like Youth, Arts and Weights & Measures should not be taken lightly, but they should be on the table. Such cuts should be seen as a last resort and if cut, done in a way that they can easily return when revenue increases. I would focus first on better stewardship of the funds being spent in other departments making sure capital expenditures are truly necessary and that employee compensation dollars are being spent efficiently. This can be achieved through better coordination and cooperation with the mayor and city’s administration; working together to find creative solutions.

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?

No. It is already difficult enough in Spokane to run and maintain a business. Plus, in the Northeast especially, the taxpayers often do not see adequate return on their tax dollars. In commercial areas, streets are pockmarked if paved at all, utilities are expensive to install at new buildings and out of date at existing ones. As a councilman, I would focus on ways to facilitate commerce and increase the size and number of employers in Spokane, especially in the Northeast. We have so much opportunity that most citizens and city officials have never experienced because small and medium business owners rarely contribute to campaigns and almost never go down to the City Council meetings to testify. Supporting those businesses with easier regulations, better processes and investing in infrastructure is a much better way to raise revenue to lower the utility tax.

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?

I would support such a change. In the past there have been major failures in leadership and diplomacy when it comes to contract negotiations. Unions feel attacked and the city feels as if there is no sense of shared sacrifice. I do not believe arbitration is the best way to solve those problems, but I would hope it would open up a new dialog that could potentially lead to convergent solutions. Solutions that neither side thought of when they came to the table but are better for all. It is a difficult dichotomy; the average citizen supports law enforcement and firefighters and appreciates them for what they do but at the same time is faced with pay cuts and job losses at home that are the reality of this economy. We have to find ways to disassociate honoring our police and fire heroes and balancing the budget.

UTILITIES

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?

It is unfortunate that previous city leadership has put the City of Spokane in this predicament by not maintaining those systems previously. If elected I would have to weigh the penalties of not abiding by state law against providing basic services to the citizenry. If it is possible to slow or put off the improvements I would be in favor of doing so to reduce the needed increases in fees.

6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?

The city should begin as soon as possible evaluating and planning for either using an alternate disposal venue or making changes to the Waste-to-Energy Plant (WTEP). The price of using the plant is simply too high. Too high for the citizenry and too high for the city. I would engage a team of citizens, experts and city officials to evaluate options and alternatives to find a more affordable solution for waste disposal. The use of the WTEP by the City has led to requiring all waste hauled and disposed of from Spokane be taken to the Waste-to-Energy Plant. Such legislation was required because the WTEP was not cost-effective and anyone who is able will take their waste to other nearby and much more affordable options. The city should not need legislation to make a service they use affordable, they should find the most cost-effective service.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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?

I do support tax incentives for historic renovation. I believe the magnitude of those incentives should be evaluated but many people do not understand the cost of refurbishing an old building. They protest and lament when old buildings are torn down, and I, too, think it’s a shame; however, I am also aware of the costs associated with doing so. In my experience as an estimator and project manager for a demolition and historic restoration contractor, I have learned that it is very often much more expensive to rehab an old building that has been neglected than to demolish it.

I also support tax incentives for building condos and apartments downtown and in neighborhood centers, but again believe these should be evaluated for their effectiveness. Rights of neighbors and developers should be balanced when it comes to these kinds of projects, and often tax incentives can complicate that relationship.

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?

Job creation should be among the top five city priorities in our current economic climate. The city should continue efforts like the University District and the Northeast Development project that create employment centers. The city should focus more attention and effort (and funds) on business centers and corridors through Business & Development Services to support small businesses. They do a good job, but are stretched very thin. The city should work with local nonprofits to create a manufacturing training and development center that would simultaneously incubate new manufacturing firms and train skilled people to work at those firms. The city should invest in the infrastructure in our commercial areas to support existing and draw in new employers. The mayor’s “Seven in Eleven” plan to support business and reduce the barriers to new businesses should be bolstered and expanded by the City Council.

PUBLIC SAFETY

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’m not convinced that the cameras have accomplished what they were intended to accomplish. I would like to see more data and an exploration of the program. I would consider TEMPORARILY diverting funds to help balance the budget while better traffic calming guidelines continue to develop and more projects are planned for. The original effort left the council with a pot of money for a specific purpose, but no plans to use it. The result was a haphazard scrabble for ideas to spend the funds. The result has been positive, but probably not the best bang for the buck.

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 believe our ombudsman is a value to the community. He has reached out to the citizens through the neighborhood councils in a way that has made us feel more connected to our law enforcement. That connection and further collaboration leads to law enforcement feeling honored by the citizenry and the citizenry feeling served by law enforcement. As it should be. It is clear that the taxpayers want more accountability and oversight of our law enforcement, and I believe the kind of accountability that comes from the ombudsman also supports law enforcement and highlights the good they have done, not just the mistakes. I would support the ombudsman having additional authority to conduct independent investigations.

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 and no. I would possibly support making possession of marijuana a low enforcement priority, but I believe that as long as it is illegal it should be enforced. I also believe that quasi-decriminalization leads to tying the hands of our law enforcement officers in ways that make it harder to do their jobs. Your average person in possession of marijuana may not be guilty of any other crimes, but many have warrants or are guilty of other crimes that are not discovered unless they are detained.

Unfortunately our detention system is overburdened, so from a budget standpoint it does make sense to divert non-violent, no-victim crimes from detention. Our court system is equally overburdened so it is important that any such laws to do not cause a situation where legitimate criminals can get off on technicalities because they were originally detained for possession of marijuana.

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 think it is a tragedy that our libraries often sit closed, and I appreciate the hard work of the library board and employees to keep them open as much as possible. I would be willing to ask voters to bolster the libraries, though I may not support a tax. It should be up to the taxpayers, but I do not think they are able to pay additional taxes right now. The council has done a good job recently finding ways to keep the libraries open and if elected I would be dedicated to doing the same.

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?

I believe urban forest is important, but is not a basic service. As an important service, existing trees should be maintained as much as is financially practical and new trees should be planted as part of larger projects especially when additional grant funding can be acquired to do so (as in the Hillyard business district project). Some studies even show that street trees can lead to increase business (and taxes and jobs) in commercial areas and can be seen as an investment in infrastructure to attract and retain business. When in a financial crunch however, planting additional trees out-of-pocket and maintaining more than required for safety should be put aside until better economic times.

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?

I believe in practical sustainability and the three-part bottom line (environmental, economic and social benefits) as long as they are done practically and balanced with other needs and factors. Environmentalists are often portrayed only as fanatics and not the real people who make choices every day that make economic and environmental sense. To be fair though, they sometimes respond fanatically to those who aren’t as green as them. The key is to focus on the parts of the plan that call for efficiency and long-term planning and not simply reaction to climate change. Environmental stewardship and sustainability can and should be an economic action. Capitalizing on green economic opportunities makes sense. I support the actions of both mayors, not because of “global warming” and whatever that means to you, but because being good stewards to the earth makes common and economic sense.

15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?

I do not think Spokane is there yet, though it may come. I do think we need a review and planning effort of all our water and wastewater department expenditures and planning. Much of what they do is good stewardship of our water and taxpayer dollars; there are instances and issues that need to be resolved. I am in favor of water conservation, but it should be done with citizen participation. I am in favor in investing in our water infrastructure, but it should be done with citizen oversight and involvement in planning.

I believe other departments and their consumption should be reviewed. I do not agree with restrictions or fees on citizens that don’t also apply to city departments and functions. Why would we restrict people’s watering to certain hours when the Parks Department is able to water during the heat of the day?

TRANSPORTATION

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 do not agree with the tab tax for street maintenance. We cannot afford higher taxes and fees. When we reconstruct streets, projects should be designed to be long term and low maintenance and I believe they can be. I would support bonds and taxes specifically designated for fixing potholes and/or street maintenance only if they are voted upon by the taxpayers. Better solutions would be taxes on studded tires that tear up the streets, annexation of urban county areas that use our streets and other ideas that tax the users of the street, not every resident.

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?”

The 2004 street bond has been successful, though the big sticking point has been curb-to-curb vs. additional features necessary for safe travel, much less complete streets. I would like to engage neighborhoods and voters to find solutions to this problem. I would propose smaller bonds, one for curb-to-curb and pothole repair and one for more complete renovation of streets. I would also like to review the street repair/rehab planning process and the way projects are prioritized to make sure each district is getting its fair share in fair time. The street bond has been overseen by an effective citizens’ advisory committee, but I would advocate for more direct representation and reporting to neighborhoods. I believe the system has to be improved so that when development is asked to pay transportation impact fees they can be confident those funds will go to benefit the projects associated with their development.

18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?

The current economic climate Spokane is in does not justify the building of a streetcar system downtown. I’m in favor of the idea as a practical transportation option and an economic engine, but I do not see how the cost-benefit analysis could pencil out at this time. It is good to do long-term, detailed planning for an effort like this as long as those involved are realistic that a project of this nature with a large initial investment needs to be planned for and budgeted for over a long period of time.

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 believe our current bicycle plan is lacking. The designers engaged primarily long distance/commute bicycle enthusiasts and did little to speak to the neighborhoods and average bike riders who know their communities and transportation needs best. I would support reevaluating the plan as a balance between automobile traffic, pedestrian, bicycle and future non-auto transportation needs (like a trolley system or electric cart zone).

I support bike lanes, and I believe secondary arterials are good places for bike lanes as well as observing and utilizing routes bicyclists currently use. I would support the redesign of intersections (as money allows) to correct traffic congestion problems as long as the bike lane is installed somewhere the community believes it should be installed and will use it.

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?

I have spent hundreds of hours working with WSDOT on the portion of the North Spokane Corridor (NSC) around Hillyard. In my experience, no plan is set in stone until the engineers are drawing up the plans and sometimes not even then. That said, WSDOT is demolishing homes in East Central for the “trumpet” style interchange described. I would like to see a different configuration of the I-90/NSC if that is possible and cost effective. I have experienced very positive cooperation with WSDOT and I believe WSDOT will work hard with other neighborhoods affected to plan effectively and implement wisely. WSDOT’s major driving forces with the development of the NSC are budget and neighborhood cooperation. It is in the city’s best interest to work with WSDOT closely and do everything they can to encourage the speedy completion of the NSC. There is no bigger economic engine for Northeast Spokane.



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