Q&A: Steve Salvatori, running for Spokane City Council seat representing Northwest Spokane
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
After three years of the worst recession of our lifetimes, our top priority has to be jobs. Small business is the backbone of our economy. Ninety-two percent of Spokane business licenses are issued to firms with five or fewer employees. I have 25 years experience as a successful small business person and founded the Spokane Entrepreneurial Center to help small businesses be successful and create jobs in Spokane. I have practical experience in managing a $100 million budget, a strong educational background including an MBA in Financial Management and believe we can protect our quality of life while creating greater prosperity.
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?
It makes sense to look into areas like Weights & Measures or elevator inspections, where there is duplication with the state. Our citizens have been clear that their top priorities are police, fire, roads, and parks. I understand there are other important programs, but I believe in following the priorities our citizens have been crystal clear in expressing. We need to look for productivity gains in high priority areas such as public safety, but we must take a hard look at every department and look for ways to streamline and reduce costs in those programs.
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?
I oppose a municipal B & O tax on the grounds it would drive business and residents away, devastate our local economy and reduce city revenue. I do not support a fourth arm being grown to reach into our citizens’ pockets. The city has a diversified revenue stream already, between sales taxes, property taxes and utility taxes. They also receive a portion of the real estate excise tax and significant revenue from civil infractions, parking meter revenue, parking infractions and business license and permit fees. We need to encourage job creation to improve our economy, not take actions that drive jobs away.
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, but I would take a slightly different approach. The current law already allows for differences in cost of living to be taken into account, but only for cities with populations under 15,000. I would simply add a 3 and change this number to 315,000. I think cost of living is the most appropriate factor to consider when setting wage and benefit levels.
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 one supports raw sewage spilling into the river. With increased federal and state standards on sewage treatment, advances in technology on phosphorus and PCBs, and storm water capture and retention, there are multiple capital projects we will need over the next decade. Sewer charges have increased, and are likely to increase further over the next few years as we meet these federal and state mandates to improve water quality. However, some of the cost of these improvements can be funded out of improved productivity in our Wastewater Department and from the rate stabilization fund. Many projects should come in under budget due to the competitiveness of our construction climate. No one can promise that we can make the necessary improvements without any further rate increases, but with proper diligence, we should be able to keep further rate increases below 5 percent.
6. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
Yes. The plant was built in conjunction with closing several landfills that were jeopardizing the aquifer where we get 100 percent of our drinking water. It has eliminated hundreds of truckloads of trash being hauled to landfills on a weekly basis. The plant has been equipped with state-of-the-art scrubbers and emission control technology, and best of all, the bonds that paid for the plant will be completely paid off at the end of the year. We need to lobby our legislators to regain the “Renewable Energy” designation for the electricity we produce and take steps to ensure the plant is run in an efficient manner to keep up with required maintenance while keeping disposal fees stable.
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?
Spokane has tax incentives for historic preservation that have played a critical role in preserving many major landmark buildings in downtown, and these have proven to be an effective economic development tool, so yes, I support maintaining our existing incentives for historic renovation and preservation. I do not support incremental tax incentives for building regular condos and apartments. The city can have a positive impact on development in targeted geographic areas through innovative zoning and a streamlined permitting process, without having to provide additional tax incentives for private projects that should go forward on a free market basis. We have much needed tax incentives for housing targeted at low-income and workforce housing, and that has been vital in meeting the needs of our citizens. But I am not in favor of providing incremental tax incentives for private development of condos and apartments that compete in the general housing market.
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?
No city can directly create jobs. But it does have a vital role in creating a business climate that encourages our private sector to create jobs. The best way the city can encourage job creation is by listening to the needs of our small business community, which generate over 85 percent of our economy and is the economic engine that has historically led the nation out of recession. Small business needs a reduction in the unnecessary regulatory burden placed on them and need a more streamlined permitting process that helps projects on the road to completion instead of dragging them into a quagmire.
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?
An agreement was reached with our citizens to accept the use of red light cameras, in exchange for using the revenue generated to improve traffic safety. Now, this promise is in danger of being broken, in an attempt to divert those dollars over to the general fund. We need to hold our elected officials to their promises. Red light funds were never designed to flow into the general fund, and this program would never have been approved if that was the original intention. I oppose the diversion of these funds.
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. We will need to conduct good-faith negotiations with the Police Guild in the upcoming contract discussions to finalize this, but I believe this is an important step in improving relations between our residents and our police and feel this would be a positive step to take for the police, the city and our citizens.
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. We need our police to focus their efforts where they can do the most good and prevent the most harm. Public safety needs to be our paramount concern, and we need to be as effective as possible in providing it.
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. The current number of hours was a compromise solution to our dire economic situation. The library board will be able to increase hours as the economy recovers, but I am not in favor of incurring further expense to put this measure on the ballot. We need to focus on growing our economy so we can afford these things, not take additional monies out of an already suffering private sector to try to provide services we can’t currently afford.
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?
The city can start by not cutting down what is already there. No, I would not increase funding for street trees. There is much debate and little consensus between urban forest consultants, arborists, utility crews and property owners about which trees are most suitable. We have an existing budget, which I do support, but I doubt any consultant from 2006 would seriously say it should be increased in 2011, given our current economic situation.
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?
Free market mechanisms and local solutions are much more effective in generating effective actions, than broad based edicts from afar. Logic and common sense carry much more weight than non binding resolutions. I believe that we should pursue energy efficiency for economic, national security and environmental reasons. I believe we should reduce waste, and make good use of precious resources for the very same reasons. Spokane is blessed with water, sunshine, wind, agricultural assets and other resources that cities in other parts of the world do not have. While we certainly share some common interest with other cities and other countries, we should make local decisions that take the greatest advantage of the blessings of this region and encourage other regions to do the same. The greatest outcome will happen when each region makes the most of its resources, not by signing broad based global resolutions.
15. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
We recently imposed a new water rate structure in Spokane, making it much more expensive to use water above a base line rate. The purpose of this new rate structure is to encourage conservation, and to reduce wasteful consumption of water. It is more efficient to water early in the morning when evaporation will be less. That’s just common sense, we don’t need a restriction.
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.
Streets are the No. 2 priority for our citizens, after public safety. The $20 Tab is to be used for INCREMENTAL street funding to make up for the shortfall in street maintenance that used to be generated by the real estate excise tax which plummeted with the recession. I support the tab, but will fight with vigor to ensure it remains incremental funding for streets and does not fall victim to a “City Hall Sleight of Hand,” in which other general fund monies previously going to streets are reduced. I am opposed to creation of a street utility fee.
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?”
Because of the high priority our citizens place on streets, and the magnitude of their cost of construction and maintenance, I believe the voters should be asked about any major initiative regarding roads. I also believe in giving the voters a say in whether additional monies should be spent for sidewalks and bike lanes, as opposed to any single special interest group attempting to ramrod that through with no evidence of broad-based support. I would encourage the ballot to be constructed in that fashion.
18. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
Any project of this magnitude should absolutely be brought before the voters. There are benefits of increased mobility in and around central Spokane, and significant costs and impacts on private investment and quality of life. With so many options regarding routes and modes, it is vital that there be a broad based and extensive community discussion and, ultimately, a vote. There will be costs of doing nothing and significant costs if a system is built. This is a major issue and a decision that should rest with the voters.
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?
Roads are essential to a healthy economy. Overwhelmingly, we travel by car, and cars must take priority over bikes. We should not accept a “Failing” rating on an intersection that affects 98 percent of the population in cars, to accommodate 2 percent of the population on bikes. I am probably the only candidate who has ridden their bicycle across the United States. Motorists and bicycles both have a legal right to the road. We need motorists to be aware they are sharing the road with bicyclists, and we need bicyclists to be aware of cars and make sure both are following the same traffic laws. I support completion of Fish Lake Trail and extension of the Centennial Trail, both of which are dedicated to bicycle use. But I do not support losing one of three lanes on 2nd Ave for a bike lane less than 2 percent of people will use.
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?
This project is probably the longest studied, most debated, and thoroughly vetted project in the history of the state of Washington. It must meet federal, state and local standards as to lane width, degrees of curves on entrance and exit ramps, sound mitigation, etc. I-90 is already a reality, and the decision to build the North Spokane Freeway was made years ago and it is over 25 percent completed. The interchange of the North Spokane Freeway and I-90 is dictated by physics, safety and traffic flow.