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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Q&A: Ben Stuckart, running for Spokane City Council president

1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate? I am running because Spokane needs a fresh, new perspective at the head of the City Council. We need to change the conversation about our budget to focus on creative and innovative revenue creation. As a manager at TicketsWest, I implemented policies that boosted revenue over $15 million. In 2007 I started Communities In Schools, and now we are a $500,000 nonprofit that serves the thousands of local students. My successes at finding creative solutions to tough problems give me the experience needed for this position. We can put our city back on track! 2. What is your top priority and how specifically would you work to achieve your top priority? My top priority will be creating revenue for our city by strengthening communities and supporting small neighborhood businesses. In February the campaign held meetings with over 30 small businesses. These meetings were designed to listen, not lecture. The vast majority of small, neighborhood businesses in our community do not see the city as a partner. We need to examine rules in place and ensure that they are encouraging small neighborhood business growth and infill. Only by increasing infill and creating room for entrepreneurs to flourish are we going to increase the city’s revenues. We need to immediately examine our parking requirements, transition zones, setback rules, lot sizes and height requirements. We can achieve neighborhoods that are safer. 90 percent of permits in the last 10 years were outside of the urban growth area. This needs to change if the city is going to live up to its commitments to its citizens. BUDGET AND TAXES 3. Given the expected $7 million shortfall between the revenue the city expects in 2012 and the amount needed to maintain current services, should the city maintain a youth department? Should the city maintain an arts department? Should the city maintain a weights and measures department? Are there other city services that you would consider eliminating? This is an example of how shortsighted policies impact our city. While the short term fix is to triage services that our community depends on, that is NOT a viable long-term solution. These departments play a critical function for Spokane’s quality of life. Balancing the budget on the backs of our youth and culture does not serve our community. I would start by scrutinizing the budget given to the council for approval. I have extensive budgetary experience and would start by looking line by line at every department’s budget and ensuring that the public’s money is being used wisely. 4. Do you support increasing hotel taxes to help balance the budget? No, I would not. The Spokane Public Facilities District is going to ask the citizens to extend the current hotel tax in order to finish the renovations and expansion of the convention center started in 2004. To increase the hotel tax to balance the general fund would put this expansion in jeopardy. Tourism, traveling shows and conventions are a huge boom to our local economy and we need to support the Public Facilities District. 5. Spokane has one of the highest utility tax rates in the state. Would you consider implementing a local business and occupation tax, as many cities in western Washington have done, as a way to lower the utility tax or other city taxes? No, a business and occupation (B&O) tax is a disincentive for new businesses to open in Spokane and for existing businesses to relocate here. We need to do everything in our power to creative a climate that will contribute to job creation. There are alternatives to raising B&O taxes that can address utility hikes without running off business. 6. The city recently has lobbied the Legislature to amend state law regarding binding arbitration so that if contract negotiations stall between the city and a union representing firefighters or police officers, an arbitrator could consider additional factors when setting wages and benefits, such as a city’s ability to pay and to maintain a reserve fund. Do you support this change to state law? In 1973, the Legislature approved a binding arbitration process as a dispute-resolution method, because the law prohibits public safety workers from striking. The City has gone to binding arbitration very few times in the past 25 years and the results lately do not merit a change to the law. The process currently takes into account cost of living and until the city tests the process in the current climate I see no reason to rush to unneeded changes. UTILITIES 7. City officials increased sewer charges by 17 percent last year and predict more increases the next few years in large part to pay for nearly $650 million for projects required by the state to improve sewage treatment and prevent untreated sewage from spilling into the river. Do you support sewage fee increases that could top 10 percent in each of the next couple of years? If not, what would be your preferred alternative? The preferred alternative is for the state to stop forcing unfunded mandates on localities. But we do need to follow the law so a solution needs to be found. The recent $1 million loan was a step in the right direction if it avoids increased charges to Spokane citizens. Raw sewage being dumped into our river, the centerpiece of our town, is not acceptable and we need to take steps to address these issues. 8. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane? Spokane should continue to search for and utilize the best available technologies that provide creative solutions to trash, pollution, and other types of waste. So yes we should continue to use Waste-to-Energy, but that shouldn’t stop us for continuing to research and implement policies that promote recycling and reuse of materials previously discarded. As many other cities have shown us, this can also create new revenue streams for city government. The city’s new recycling program is a step in the right direction, and we need to keep working to minimize the amount of trash that is burned. We should focus on attracting industries that utilize recyclable materials that would normally be burnt or are hard to recycle and reuse. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT 9. Do you support tax incentives for historic renovation? Do you support tax incentives for building condos and apartments downtown and in certain neighborhood centers? Our community identity lies in our buildings, objects, landscapes of historic significance and those should be preserved, conserved and protected when appropriate. Yes, we should provide incentives for developer’s that want to renovate buildings and residential units that are historical. Not only does this preserve our heritage but it provides incentives to create vibrancy in our urban core. Yes, I support tax incentives for condos and apartments downtown and in certain neighborhood centers. If Spokane wants to increase the revenue base of our city without increasing taxes we must ensure that new developments are happening in neighborhood centers designated in the “centers and corridors” portion of the comprehensive plan. We must encourage mixed-use and urban growth to move forward as a city and incorporating historical buildings into that concept makes sense. 10. Many candidates are focused this campaign season on job creation. Should the city actively try to create jobs? If so, what should it do? Yes, Spokane should do everything possible to partner with, promote and incentivize businesses that serve as the engines of growth in our city and communities. The city is currently viewed as an obstacle, not a partner, to small business growth and we should begin work to remove the barriers that prevent these businesses from opening. In speaking with numerous small businesses in the last few months it is clear that parking rules, transition zones and other impediments exist which dampen economic growth and the job growth it can bring to Spokane. Additionally, the city should provide infrastructure so we can attract new industry to Spokane. There are vast areas of Hillyard that left unpaved will never attract new businesses in their current state. We must promote, partner with and attract new businesses. This is the only way we are going to move forward as a city! PUBLIC SAFETY 11. Do you support the use of red light cameras? If so, do you support diverting ticket revenue from a fund for traffic safety projects to help balance the budget? Yes I support the use of red light cameras. But I believe that revenue needs to stay in the neighborhoods and be used for traffic safety projects. We cannot continue to balance the budget by just diverting revenue from various projects that have already been earmarked for public safety. The budget needs to be balanced by looking at costs and ensuring that the assumed 6 percent increase is true. My experience with finances will allow me to approach the budget in this manner. Long term, we need to look at increasing revenue without increasing taxes to pay for the imbalance. 12. Do you support the decision to have a full-time police ombudsman? Do you believe that the ombudsman should have the authority to conduct independent investigations into alleged police misconduct? Yes, there should be a police ombudsman but his recommendations should be implemented. In December of 2010 the Police Ombudsman released a set of recommendations that included video cameras on tasers, video cameras in police cars, interviews with officers immediately after critical incidents, and many others. The city should implement these recommendations as well giving him or her the tools necessary and latitude to conduct investigations that are independent. 13. Would you support a law, modeled after a law in Seattle, to make misdemeanor possession of marijuana by an adult the city’s lowest enforcement priority? I don’t think that Spokane should pass a law just because Seattle passed one, but there is overwhelming evidence that the Seattle initiative has been a success and the fears concerning increase marijuana abuse proved to be incorrect. I would not be opposed to reviewing current police enforcement priorities. For example, the police force currently does not have any detectives assigned to car break-ins. I found this out the hard way when my car was broken in to last month. Property crimes are not victimless and there is a strong argument they should be prioritized above misdemeanor possession of marijuana. 14. The Spokane Fire Department’s goals for response times (arrive on scene within 8 minutes and 30 seconds 90 percent of the time) are significantly lower than standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (arrive on scene within 5 minutes 90 percent of the time). Given the city’s budget problems, do you have proposals to improve response times? I think we have some of the hardest working and dedicated firefighters in the nation right here in Spokane. The National Fire Protection Association might think our response time is slow but I have knocked on over 6,000 doors in our city and have not heard a single complaint about fire response times. That said, common sense dictates we always look for ways to improve vital services such as fire response. If the City of Spokane follows the comprehensive plan and Growth Management Act, we will not be as spread out, our population will live closer together and response times will be faster. We also need to look at transport and how privatizing transport and taking this out of the hands of the Fire Department has affected response times. 15. Given the recent finding of a bomb placed along the annual route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in Spokane, what should be the role of the city’s Human Rights Commission? Certainly violence and intolerance has no place in our city, or in any a civilized society, and I support the institutions that are committed to ending all manner of hate in Spokane. According the City Charter, the Human Rights Commission advises and makes recommendations to the City Council regarding issues related to human rights and unjust discrimination and the implementation of programs consistent with the needs of all residents of the City of Spokane. The City Charter outlines 16 specific duties and powers of the commission, and I would work to support their mission. LIBRARIES, PARKS AND ENVIRONMENT 16. Spokane’s library system offers significantly fewer hours than many of the 20 largest cities in Washington. Would you be willing to ask voters for a tax to boost this service as was requested earlier this year by the city library board? This is an example of a place where we can shift the discussion from “what to cut” to “what new streams of revenue can be created.” We need to stop looking at all city services and departments in isolation and take a comprehensive approach to city government. We need to increase our revenue base so our libraries can stay open longer hours. We need to strengthen our entire city and support neighborhood centers. In the current climate we cannot ask voters for a separate vote on just the library. The city government needs to be looked at as a whole. 17. A consultant hired by the city to review city services in 2006 said that the city was not investing enough in its urban forest. Should the city do more to plant and maintain street trees. If so, how? We should invest in our urban forest. We all love Spokane’s trees and urban forest, they are part of our community identify. But in addition to providing a backdrop for life in Spokane they also provide an aesthetic that attracts both visitors and business. The question is can we do it now? I believe that we need to fix the immediate imbalances first by growing our revenue base through business growth and urban density and as appropriate we need to continue phasing in sustainable development projects such as urban foresting. 18. Do you support the sustainability plan promoted by Mayor Mary Verner, which was adopted by the Spokane City Council in 2010? Do you support the decision of former Mayor Dennis Hession to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement? Yes and yes. There is a global scientific consensus that climate change is real and it has been massively accelerated by humans. To suggest otherwise would be to deny overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Cities must take the lead on addressing the economic and environmental impacts of faster climate change. Local communities are not in a position to wait for state and federal governments to act. If we do nothing, we risk catastrophic consequences for our city. 19. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane? Conservation of our natural resources and sustainability should be a top priority for any city government in the 21st Century. That said, no, I would not support restrictions on the hours when you could water your lawn. These type of one-size-fits-all regulations are notoriously unfair and often counterproductive. However, I feel the cities recent restructuring of the water rates encourages conservation. The new rates lower water rates for 60 percent of Spokane’s citizens during the entire year and for all citizens during the non-watering months. Increased usage has a higher cost during lawn watering months which encourages conservation. TRANSPORTATION 20. Most city officials say that the street department has not been adequately funded to properly maintain city streets once they are reconstructed. This year, the City Council approved a $20 vehicle tab tax to boost street funding. Do you support this decision? If not, would you support a change in state law to allow the city to create a street utility fee that would be charged on city trash and water bills? Our infrastructure, especially our streets, are critical to our community. Yet every spring the Spokane game of counting potholes begins. We are over a decade behind on basic maintenance and our elected officials have proven incapable of producing a solution. I support the car tab fee as long as it does not supplant other general revenue funds. We should be spending more on streets, not less. A $20 car tab fee pales in comparison to the damage our citizens pay each year after encounters with potholes. 21. The city has nearly completed the projects it promised voters in the 2004 street bond. Would you support asking voters for a new street bond of a similar or greater scope? If so, should the bond include money to pay for sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees or other street improvements besides pavement from “curb-to-curb?” The 2004 street bond is one of the most successful projects this city has seen in the last 20 years. When brought to voters it included streets in all parts of town and the citizen’s were told which streets would be redone. I believe there are more streets that need to be repaved and it should be brought to the voters again. The bond should include money this time for sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees and other improvements when the plans for those streets include those items. We have a comprehensive plan that includes centers and corridors. These need to be followed when doing large public works projects. Sidewalks and other improvements make our neighborhoods safer, more livable and contribute to the reason so many people love Spokane! 22. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane? Now is not the right time for a tax increase to pay for a trolley system. Once we have increased our support of small neighborhood business centers, increased our growth in those neighborhoods and in our urban core, the population will exist to support more investment in transportation projects. This will come naturally once the demand is in place. We need to focus on economic growth and jobs first to create the need for infrastructure such as this. 23. Where should the city install bike lanes? Would you be willing to support the installation of a bike lane on a street if the city engineer determined that doing so could cause an intersection to earn a “failing” rating for car traffic congestion? In large part the answer to the first question has already been answered. The city should follow the guidelines which have already been determined by the citizens. This starts with the comprehensive plan and then was further developed with the Master Bicycle plan. These documents were created with numerous public meetings and input and reflect the will of the people. In answer to your second question, if the street fails a congestion rating because of bicycle lanes we should look for alternative routes for bicycles. 24. State leaders have said that local funding may be needed to pay to finish the North Spokane Freeway. Do you support the completion of the North Spokane Freeway south of Francis Avenue to Interstate 90? If so, would you be willing to support local taxes, fees or tolls for the freeway? This is an issue that the State of Washington started and should finish. Local citizens should not be on the hook for a project started and funded by the state. It is their obligation to finish the project. 25. Current plans for the North Spokane Freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including onramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration? The land has already been bought and the plans approved by the state already. The state should finish the project that it has started.
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