Spokane Valley Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels, who has served on the City Council since the city incorporated in 2003, appears to have lost favor among the Positive Change group that holds five of the seven council seats.
In the 2009 elections, five candidates ran together on a Positive Change ticket, including Schimmels. His fellow council members twice elected him to the post of deputy mayor, but donors that supported Schimmels in that election, most notably businessman Jack Pring, have shifted their support to Ed Pace. Pace and Dee Dee Loberg are facing off against Schimmels on the primary ballot that will be mailed to voters next week. The two who receive the most votes will advance to the general election in November.
Pace, who ran for a council seat in 2009, has received campaign donations from Councilman Arne Woodard and Elizabeth Grafos, wife of Councilman Dean Grafos. Former Councilwoman Brenda Grassel, who was mentored by Schimmels in 2009, is running Pace’s campaign, and her business, Precision Cutting Technologies, has made a donation to Pace.
Pace, who identifies himself as a Positive Change candidate, said the switch happened because Schimmels doesn’t always vote with the majority. “My understanding is that his voting pattern has drifted away from theirs,” he said.
Schimmels said he didn’t want to speak to why he has lost support from other council members. “I just try to stay out of that situation,” he said. “There isn’t one of those council people that have said one word to me.”
Many of Schimmels’ dissenting votes have been associated with spending the city’s reserves. The majority of the council is interested in moving forward with a growing number of special projects, including landscaping Appleway Boulevard, which would require spending some of the money that took years to accumulate. The council has also been spending money on street preservation projects that had been set aside for a new city hall and the eventual replacement of CenterPlace.
“I see a black cloud ahead of us in terms of finances,” Schimmels said. “That bothers me to sit here and eat our reserves up.”
Schimmels said that while he is generally in favor of the $2.1 million project to add landscaping to Appleway Boulevard, it’s not worth spending reserves on. The council is taking on too many projects, he said. This year the city put in an entrance sign and landscaping at Appleway and Thierman Road, and there are plans to spend $60,000 for business route signs on Interstate 90. “I’m not saying we’re off the edge or anything,” he said. “I think that’s what it’s leading to. The biggest cities are in trouble. I don’t want to get in that strait.”
The reserves are also important to Loberg, who ran for a City Council seat in 2011. “I still see a lack of long-range planning,” she said. “We’ve been using a lot of our reserve funds rather than a 1 percent increase in property taxes. Nobody likes taxes, but we can’t spend our reserves. It’s the easier path taken when you don’t increase revenue.”
Pace said he would rather make more cuts than approve a 1 percent property tax increase to pay for additional police officers, though he can’t say what he would cut. “I don’t have enough information,” he said. “If we increase it once, we increase it twice and then we get accustomed to it.”
He would favor raising taxes only as a last resort, Pace said. “As a citizen, I don’t want my taxes to go up,” he said. “I want to continue that majority on the City Council that would keep it that way.”
Pace said he’s not bothered by the similar views held by the current Positive Change council majority “because I agree with it.”
“It’s not like the Stepford council members,” he said. “They’re all different. I think there’s enough diversity.”
Loberg, however, has the opposite view. “I think we need more diversity on our council.”