Spokane Valley City Council opponents Dean Grafos and John Carroll had a few pointed words for each other during a candidate debate at CenterPlace last week, but the other candidates for office agreed more than they disagreed.
The Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted the debate and invited audience members to write down questions for the candidates. Most of the questions asked focused on the city’s budget, how to attract more businesses to Sprague Avenue and economic development.
Carroll went on the offensive in his opening statement. Grafos “has focused on the past, not the future,” Carroll said. “My opponent opposed incorporation and later supported the disincorporation movement.”
Grafos said he got involved in the city council because he opposed the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan that took effect in October 2009, which Carroll supported. Grafos called it a “massive, multi-million dollar overreach.”
“It was a vision run amok,” he said.
Grafos also listed several organizations and businesses that have endorsed him or given him campaign donations.
“I have the support of this business community because I listen to what their concerns are,” he said. “I’m constantly working with these businesses to make sure we are business friendly to them.”
Every candidate said that the city must be “business friendly,” but each had different suggestions on how to accomplish that goal. Councilman Arne Woodard said he likes to stop by businesses and introduce himself. His opponent, Dee Dee Loberg, said she would like to work with established business organizations to form an economic development committee, “not necessarily run by the government.”
Candidate Marilyn Cline said she favored redoing sign and zoning codes. “Collaboration is key for the business community,” said her opponent, Ben Wick. “It doesn’t always have to be our city’s ideas.”
The candidates were also asked if they would rather raise taxes or cut the budget if the city were to face a budget deficit. “We run a fairly lean city,” said Loberg. “There’s not a lot of fat to trim in Spokane Valley.” If she had to choose between a 1 percent property tax increase and parks, she would choose the tax, Loberg said. “I’m willing to pay.”
Woodard said he is not in favor of new taxes. “To tax a community when you’re struggling eliminates jobs,” he said. The city should focus its efforts on encouraging business, he said. “Get out of their way and we won’t have a shortfall,” he said.
Grafos and Carroll also clashed over questions that called one-way Sprague a “low-rent” district or compared it to a spreading cancer. There’s a huge problem on Sprague between University and Argonne, Carroll said. “The city is ignoring it,” he said. “It’s an economically blighted area.”
“Your SARP plan has crippled that area for seven years,” Grafos said, referring to the revitalization plan.
One of the questions asked what they would do the address the projected deficits in the city’s budget. Wick said the most current five-year projection does not show that. “They actually don’t show deficits at this point anymore,” he said.
Woodard said that the city budget was growing at 7 percent a year. “That was unsustainable,” he said. He favors doing more cutting. “There’s still some fat,” he said.
While the annual budget did increase 7 percent a year, the amount spent between 2004 and 2009 only increased about 1 percent a year, Carroll said. “Our budget did increase, but the money out the door did not,” he said. “SARP did not stop people from coming to this town. We are not poverty stricken.”