July 23, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: For primary council race, think Loberg, Schimmels

 

Four Spokane Valley City Council seats are up for grabs, but only the Position 4 race drew more than two candidates. So it’s the only contest that voters need concern themselves with in the Aug. 6 primary.

The contest comes down to the differing visions for the city. One view embraces its current status as a low-key bedroom community that reluctantly remains a city. The other would raise its profile as the state’s 10th largest city in its 10th year of existence.

Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels, 75, is the incumbent and has been on the council from the beginning. Ed Pace, 66, ran for the council four years ago and has the backing of the Positive Change group that controls the current council. Both are content with the laid-back nature of the city and want to keep taxes as low as possible.

This is also the second run for DeeDee Loberg, 50, and she is back with a more polished presentation and the same high energy. The longtime community activist serves as the Washington state PTA programs director. She would like to challenge the current council to think bigger and plan for the long term. She notes that the city has gained about 12,000 residents since incorporation and can’t continue to amble along an ad-hoc decision-making path.

Taxes and budget reserves are key issues. The council has not taken an allowed 1 percent property tax increase for several years, but it is dipping into its reserves to pay for items such as the beautification of the Sprague-Appleway entrances to the city. This frustrates Loberg, who wants a long-range plan in place before the city spends money on such projects. We agree that without that a plan, it becomes difficult to evaluate whether to take a property tax increase or spend reserves.

All the candidates agree that the Sullivan Bridge project is vital, but the city needs $4 million to leverage other funding. Loberg says tapping reserves for the bridge is justified because more state funding is unlikely. But she wants the city to develop plans for all of its infrastructure needs, including improvements to its parks.

Schimmels, who is retired from the construction industry and formerly owned Affordable Lock Express, has voted against tapping reserves, which appears to explain his falling-out with the Positive Change group, which has funneled contributions to Pace instead. However, he said he would spend reserves if that were the only way to complete the Sullivan Bridge project.

Pace, who is the pastor of Caring Ministries at Redeemer Lutheran Church, said he needs to learn more about the bridge and transportation funding in general, but he would be reluctant to ever raise taxes, which increases pressure on the reserves. He says the city can get out of this jam by attracting more businesses, but he isn’t interested in promotional or branding initiatives that would raise the city’s profile.

The small-government view is already well-represented on the council. Pace would join that lockstep coalition. Schimmels shows more independence and has greater experience. Loberg would bring energy and a passion for city planning that the current council needs.

We recommend voters move Schimmels and Loberg into the next round.

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