Eight years after Medical Lake decided to disband its independent police department, Mikeal Suniga said it’s time to re-establish it.
But his challenger in the race to lead the city, Shirley Maike, said the town is served well by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
On public safety and economic development the two share fundamentally different views of the town’s future. Maike wants to maintain the Medical Lake’s small-town feel, while Suniga argues the city must work harder to encourage growth.
Suniga, an Airway Heights police officer, said if elected, his biggest priorities are to hire paid firefighters for the town’s fire department and to re-establish an independent police department.
He said he hopes to take the funds from the $890,000 contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which provides for four officers to patrol the area around-the-clock, to create a police department for Medical Lake. The town began contracting out its law enforcement service to the sheriff’s office in 2009.
He also said he would like to turn the all-volunteer Medical Lake Fire Department into an expanded paid operation. Currently, if the local emergency services cannot respond, departments from cities with whom they have mutual aid agreements will take the calls.
“They have full-time jobs like everyone else,” he said. “That’s not how we should run a business.”
Maike, a 20-year Medical Lake City Council veteran, said her highest priority is the city’s finances, and creating a new police department while expanding the fire department may require tax increases and increased spending, which she opposes.
“I think the services we’re getting from the Sheriff’s Office meet the needs of our city,” she said. “I don’t want to have to increase taxes just to pay for a police department just so we can say we have our own police department.”
She also said the size of the community and number of calls don’t justify the taxpayers footing the bill for two new departments.
“We don’t get a lot of income,” she said. “We’re in a good place fiscally right now, so I want to keep it there. I was on the council when it hasn’t been so fiscally sound.”
She plans, instead, to focus on better management of the city’s existing emergency response services.
Suniga rejected the notion, asserted by Maike and other local officials, that his attitude toward growth and development was following the status quo. He said his lack of political experience and outside perspective might be beneficial to bring fresh ideas to city management and grow the economy.
“It seems that the current mantra from the council and the city government is we want to stay a small town,” he said. “A community either grows or it dies, it never stagnates.”
He said he still wants the small-town feel, but is afraid the economy may shrink if city officials don’t proactively try to grow.
Maike said Medical Lake’s small and safe environment is what many residents enjoy about the area and that due to challenges in expanding water service, expansion efforts may run into serious problems.
“We all like living here because we like living in a small town and want to protect that sense of community that we have,” she said.
She said she wants to encourage economic growth and development, but not at the cost of Medical Lake’s rural atmosphere.
Suniga said he also wants to encourage community engagement through social media. Currently, only the Parks and Recreation department has a Facebook page, he said. He hopes to start a YouTube channel and a Facebook page for the city of Medical Lake to post information from council meetings and community announcements online.
“It’s 2017,” he said. “I realize they’re a small community, but there’s some people who get their news and get what’s happening around everything via Facebook, so let’s be proactive about it.”
Maike said she doesn’t see online engagement as a priority for Medical Lake considering the workload of the existing employees. She said if a volunteer wanted to manage the social media accounts and film meetings, she likely would support it.
“While I agree social media is important,” she said, “you have to look at the limited resources we have as a city.”
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