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Medical Lake City Council candidates disagree on creating police department

Gary Plumlee and Theodore Olson are running for position 5 on the Medical Lake City Council in the November 2017 election. (Courtesy photos)
Gary Plumlee and Theodore Olson are running for position 5 on the Medical Lake City Council in the November 2017 election. (Courtesy photos)

Theodore Olson and Gary Plumlee want to spur economic development in Medical Lake, but have different ideas on establishing the future of Medical Lake’s police and fire departments.

The two are competing in the November election for position 5 on the Medical Lake City Council.

Olson, 68, has been a resident of Medical Lake for more than 25 years. It’s his first time running for city government.

“I’ve always loved people and this community, and I’m going to do what is best for the city of Medical Lake,” he said.

Olson would like to see the downtown corridor cleaned up, possibly with assistance from community involvement or service organizations.

One priority is to patch up Medical Lake’s walking path and add energy efficient solar powered lights that will be activated by motion sensor as people walk along the path, he said.

Plumlee, 30, said he is running for the City Council seat because he wants to help those that feel like they don’t have a voice in city government.

“You should always take pride in the place you live in,” he said.

Plumlee is involved in community events such as cleaning up the city parks and assisting at the food bank.

“For the things that matter – that help others – you can count on me to be there,” he said.

While he’d like to see the downtown core revitalized, Plumlee said areas of disrepair should be handled by property and business owners – not entirely by City Council.

“We can let them know code enforcement that could be taken,” he said. “While we should be helpful and pro small business, there’s only so much the City Council can do there.”

Both candidates believe changes need to happen with the Medical Lake Fire Department, but have different ideas on how to implement those changes.

“We have volunteers. They do a great job. But, the problem is, it’s all volunteer,” Olson said. “There’s been missed calls, which is not good. It means somebody else from a different (fire) department had to pick up the slack.”

Olson said a solution is to hire a full-time fire chief and full-time assistant that will rotate shifts, while attending to routine maintenance in between calls.

Plumlee said he’d also like to see the fire department revamped to respond to 100 percent of calls. But to avoid tax increases, he proposes the city should consider a residency program through area colleges that allows fire science students to respond to calls while gaining work experience.

“It could be a big win for Medical Lake,” he said.

City leaders have been grappling with creating a police department in Medical Lake, rather than subcontracting those services to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which they’ve been doing since 2009.

Olson said the Sheriff’s Office is doing a good job, but they are short-staffed and response time is still a problem. He’d like to see Medical Lake establish its own police department without taxing residents – if it’s financially viable.

“We definitely need a police department,” he said. “Mike Suniga (candidate for Medical Lake mayor) will be able to establish a police department for less money. If it can’t be done, it won’t be pursued further.”

Plumlee said the city eventually will outgrow it’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office, and he’d also like to see Medical Lake have its own police department, just not now.

“It’s going to take a couple of years before this would even come to fruition,” Plumlee said. “It’s moot right now because the police department is contracted and the infrastructure isn’t in place to start a police department right now. But, there are many conversations to have about that in the future.”

Medical Lake experienced a critical water shortage in 2006 and as a result, the city adopted an ordinance in 2007 limiting water usage of residents to 1,000 gallons a day.

Both candidates want to look at options to fix the city’s water shortage.

“What we have to do is lower the home usage number,” Olson said. “Right now, the rate is 141.5 gallons per person per day. At 1,000 gallons, that assumes seven people are living in a house in Medical Lake.”

Olson said if the number of apartments and half-time residents in city limits are taken into account, the average would drop to about four people per address, so lowering the home usage number would be attainable.

Olson suggests the city install or build another storage tank to hold a reserve of 1 million gallons of water and add transfer lines between reservoirs.

“If you build a tank to hold an extra million gallons, you can irrigate out of the lakes,” he said. “It’s going to be an expense, but will reduce household consumption of water.”

The Hirst decision – which ruled in 2016 that county planning agencies need to ensure there’s enough available water to accommodate growth before issuing new building permits – impacts drilling of private wells.

“However, that doesn’t include municipalities or entities like Medical Lake,” said Olson. “They can drill another well and have more water.”

Another suggestion is to have residences or businesses fill up vacant lots before adding new water hookups, Olson said.

For the city to grow, additional sources of water need to be found because there’s only 14 remaining water hookups for new housing or business developments.

“We can buy water from Spokane, or we can limit growth of the city, which is what is currently happening,” Plumlee said. “The city’s boundaries are set in stone, so we can’t annex any land.”

Realistically, water shortages were caused by a lack of rain this summer, Plumlee said, adding that residents are following the water ordinance.

“It worked out OK this year. But in the future, as the city grows, we have to find new sources of water,” he said.