Q&A: Michael Allen, running for Spokane City Council seat representing South Spokane
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
I will make job creation and economic development for our community my highest priority.
I will use my real world work experience as a small business owner, budget manager and former city councilman to also focus on the financial accountability of the city, neighborhood safety and involvement.
I will also continue my previous efforts pushing the City for a comprehensive capital plan, published performance measurements and strengthening our city centers and corridors strategy.
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 should focus and prioritize essential functions. The youth and art departments add to our city, but are not essential functions and in some ways duplicate similar services provided by other nonprofit organizations. Weights and measures is still a function the city should perform.
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. As a border city competing against a more business-friendly state such as Idaho, a B and O tax would lessen our ability to attract new businesses.
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. Spokane must use cities such as Vancouver and Tacoma as comparables in union negotiations currently and does not take into account items like cost of living and economic base.
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?
Many of these large utility expenditures are forced on us by unfunded state mandates. In the long run these projects will need to be completed, but given the tough economic times, I’d like to see the city work with the Department of Ecology and others to extend the timeline for completion so as not to place a significant burden on our citizens in times of high unemployment and falling house prices.
6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
Yes. In my opinion this was a very forward-thinking project at the time and was a first step toward a type of renewable energy. I also think we should expand our recycling program.
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?
Yes. We should incent renovation and density, not legislate it.
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 should always be working to help create private sector jobs. Basic things the city can do is to promote business incentives, insure good infrastructure and partner with key economic development organizations and our universities to attract and develop new business.
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?
No. I voted against the red light camera program the first time. At the time there was little baseline information that supported its claim to safety, and I felt it was just a new revenue stream that would eventually end up in 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. Yes. Every department should have to be accountable to the citizens. I don’t think the ombudsman should have any role in discipline, however.
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?
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?
Yes. I think access to libraries is important to a community and voters should have a say in their future. If possible, I would like to see the county and city library systems consolidate
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 think a vibrant urban forest add to quality of life in our city. But in these tough economic times and decreasing city revenues, I don’t think this is a priority.
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?
Sustainability really has the goal of using resources more efficiently, and I think everyone supports that. But I don’t agree with enacting policies or taking actions where no fiscal analysis has been done. Council and voters should know the cost benefit of taking such actions.
15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
No. I think education is the right tool in this matter
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. Our street issue is a big one and we need a big solution. I think the concept of a street utility makes sense for our long-term street 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?”
Yes I would support a new street bond similar in scope. The current street bond projects have been a great success with a citizens’ oversight committee helping insure what was approved is getting done. I would want a separate bond initiative that would address paying for sidewalks, bike lanes and street trees. If a street utility was to be enacted, the bond program should be retired.
18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
Yes. Although I think the cost of such a system is prohibitive at this 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?
Where it makes sense, the city should follow the master bike plan. No.
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?
The North Spokane Freeway is critical to the future of our city and region and needs to be supported. The East Central Neighborhood should be involved and have input into how these changes will affect their residential and business areas.