Q&A: Mike Fagan, running for Spokane City Council seat representing Northeast Spokane
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
As pointed out earlier, I believe that I possess a good feel for what the “priorities of the taxpayer” are. The actions of the current council in levying at least a half a dozen new taxes and fees, and further eroding our private property rights is not conducive to the promotion of business and the creation of jobs. The city has shown no political courage in pushing back on “excessive or unrealistic” regulation and expectations from state government, federal government and NGOs. I feel that NO ONE is standing up for the taxpayer in all of this.
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?
At this point in our current economic environment, coupled with the lack of political courage from our city leadership, to hell with “priorities of government,” it is the taxpayer who is in charge. The city has run a significant budget deficit the last four years in a row using the same kinds of one-time budget gimmicks that the state has. This is not sustainable, and it is unacceptable. The city gets the same revenue forecasts as everyone else does, so why can’t the city make mid-cycle adjustments for instance?
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 MORE TAXES! The taxpayer is tapped out. A local B&O tax would just be a contributing factor to Spokane making the No. 1 spot in the nation for available commercial property. I like the fact that government has grown, has become more intrusive, and IS NOT promoting business and job growth because it has now gotten the attention of the taxpayers and “these actions will force a long needed dialog” between the government and the people. There will be no more hiding or disguising the issues due to the lack of city funds. The government CANNOT continue to be everything to everyone, so everything is on the table.
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 am not familiar with the full scope of this effort, but, on its face, I like the fact that we can now consider “ability to pay” as a criteria. I would also like to see a third party committee selected for the purpose of negotiating the contracts as opposed to just the Mayor, and that the arbitration process will not be using the likes of Seattle and Tacoma as comparable economies. With salary and benefits comprising 60 to 65 percent of the general fund, again, we have come to a point where a very serious long needed dialog must take place.
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?
Let’s use the example of a story your paper ran a couple of weeks ago with regards to the disagreement between the county commissioners and the Spokane Tribe of Indians on the Spokane River. The tribe wanted discharges into the river to be undetectable by current lab standards. This is unreasonable with astronomic costs associated with attempting to achieve that goal. It is my understanding after a conversation with Commissioner Mielke that the tribe subsequently settled on the promise that the county would be implementing steps for “continuous improvement.” A lot of what is driving the costs associated to our sewer, water and utility rates in general is excessive state and federal regulation and unfunded mandates. Spokane’s motto is “Near nature, near perfect.” The motto in this case is reasonable and reflects the truth.
6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
The WTE is going to be the latest boondoggle that taxpayers will be paying on AGAIN! After 20 years of debt service, we own the plant which is in need of $18 million plus dollars of maintenance and upgrades which should have been provided by the prime contractor running the plant? By all appearances, if the city was managing this contract correctly would we be at this point where instead of seeing our tipping fees go way down, we are going to see them go way up? We currently pay $98 a ton and could see $142 a ton when it is all said and done. Yes, I am aware that the city is still negotiating some of the details, but time equates to money and if this was done and managed correct the first time, we wouldn’t be faced with the possibility of more taxes and cuts.
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?
Tax incentives can be a useful tool and is one way to promote business and job growth. The one glaring factor in all of this is that tax incentives are not a basic function of government and can only be extended in a good economic environment. While I am a proponent for historic renovation, we can’t afford this right now. As for incentives for condos and the like, if you are able to afford to buy a half-million-dollar condo you should be able to pay your property taxes for same.
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?
In order for the city to start heading down the path to a sustainable budget the first thing we need to do is to get control of our labor costs. Secondly, when people can get welfare a lot easier than getting a building permit, that tells me that there is still something wrong with the system in which business owners and residents have to operate. All functions of government have to be periodically evaluated in order to determine if the program is effective. Programs that don’t work have to be eliminated or reformed. Lastly, as the legislative body of the city, council can evaluate taxation and regulation such that it “fosters a better environment for business” to establish and grow. I recognize that small business is the back bone of our economy and without those small business owners we cannot rely on jobs being available.
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 photo red for the reasons stated by government, i.e., it is all about the safety. This program has turned into ‘it’s all about the revenue’ and I do not feel that the program is lawful and constitutional. There are many examples of cities across the nation that have discontinued this program for a variety of reasons. To my knowledge, state law prohibits license tab fees from being used for anything but road construction, yet, it seems to have become common practice by governments to raid dedicated funds to cover pet programs and budget shortfalls.
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 would have been happy with a third-party citizens committee like we have had in the past with the obvious conflict of interest issues dealt with. It seems that the public wants an ombudsman which is fine with me. I have always been a man that believes in “letting the voters decide,” and at the salary that has been budgeted for this position, you bet I would give the ombudsman investigatory powers. Right now we are paying for nothing more than someone to make a periodic reporting to the council and neighborhoods, someone who is for the most part a pacifier of the public. This is a serious position and it should be taken more seriously than it has in the past. Where is the value, where is the ROI, and more importantly, where is the justice?
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?
This question is very ambiguous and since I am not fully cognizant of Seattle’s ordinance, I feel a bit out of my element to just make a specific statement. In general, if the scenario called for an adult who for example is not trafficking, non-violent, not driving, did not have children with them, and has made a reasonable attempt to be isolated from the general public, I would take a libertarian stance and would be supportive of an ordinance. There is emerging science being conducted right now on the effects of, at what level, and how it does affect people and ability. There is statistical data which supports the starting of the dialog for an ordinance such as this.
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?
Again, NO MORE TAXES! Please see answer #8. It is very imperative that we get a firm control on labor costs. Lower taxes, smaller and less intrusive and transparent government. To hear the Mayor claim that we are cut to the bone is laughable.
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 the urban forest is adequate. While I love trees, they sure can do a lot of damage and require a lot of maintenance to our infrastructure, i.e. pruning, leaves, sidewalks, sewer, and water pipes. Let’s not forget, the expansion of our urban forest program has been a contributing factor to growing the size of our city government also as we now have at least 3 arborists working for the city and parks.
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 actively practice and support conservation, composting and recycling. I have been schooled and have hands-on experience with LEAN principles. I have had a hand in the creation of several community gardens in northeast Spokane, but, I do not and cannot support any taxation or regulation which has its roots in the “global warming” lie.
15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
Why should we? The mayor says that the city leads by example in water conservation. All I see here is the “do as I say and not as I do” mentality that government is well known for. We are sitting on one of the world’s largest aquifers with trillions of gallons of water, which renews itself. It is the environmentalists who make the claim that our aquifer is not renewable, and I would tend to side with the scientific community on this one. While talking with constituents, a lot of people do not realize the rude awakening they are in for in August, nor are they aware of sewer rates going ballistic, all because of the environmentalists’ push for “sustainability.” I find it extremely laughable that the city touts a grand record in support of sustainability this and sustainability that, yet they have a rough time with a sustainable budget.
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?
Here is a perfect example of shooting first, ask questions later. The council levies a tax without a specific purpose. No, I do not support the $20 tab fee. If I did support it, I would have had a specific dedicated purpose for the tax before I enacted it. Again, please refer to the answer in question #8 above. If the city was better at managing the quality aspect of road construction in their contracts, not allowing the contractor to accept penalties in lieu of providing lower quality materials and workmanship, maybe our streets wouldn’t crumble so fast.
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 believe citizens are aware of the street bond, and they expect a follow-up bond as stated when they approved the first. The question now is whether or not taxpayers can afford anything more than a curb-to-curb repaving. There will have to be a lot of dialog to gauge public expectations. With the implementation of “complete streets,” the city has become very ambitious in its urban forest goals, traffic calming and establishing bike friendly accommodations. To complete the city’s bicycle plan, it is my understanding that a total of approximately $3.5 million dollars will be spent – just to paint the bike lanes. I say the streets of our city have the priority over bike lanes. By establishing bike lanes on major arterials, you are in effect decreasing road capacity. Any prospective developer or contractor is now required to pay a “developer impact fee” in order to mitigate traffic congestion.
18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
NO! Especially if it would come under the auspices of STA, which continually has issues with their budget. I don’t begrudge folks for wanting to use public transportation or bicycles, but I love my car. I believe that the vast majority of folks in Spokane are likeminded. We can’t afford it in this current economic environment, and I surely wouldn’t want to have to have to address this while there are other pressing issues that the city faces. I have always believed that “prosperity solves the issue of poverty.” Can we get Spokane healthy again before we decide to get more ambitious?
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?
Please see the answers in 17 & 18. I would not support installation if it results in a failing rating. I would not have put a bike lane on Second Avenue downtown. We are just asking for someone to get killed or seriously injured.
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?
Wow, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what this would look like. The last time I saw something of this magnitude was in the Army while stationed in South Korea. I am sorry but I need additional information before I can comment on this one.