While Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz runs for re-election with a focus on improving public safety and community outreach, two other candidates vying for the nonpartisan position say they can help the city remain fiscally conservative.
Michelle Rasmussen, who serves on the city’s planning commission and is the senior director for campus services at Eastern Washington University, is running on a platform of lean government.
As a former administrative assistant to Spokane Valley’s deputy city manager, Rasmussen said she developed and managed three department budgets, and formatted the city’s six-year business plan into a working document, making it easily readable for citizens.
“With that plan, it was more of a transparency document, not only for council to know what staff is doing, but certainly for the citizens, so they could see what the city is doing,” she said.
Robert “Rocky” Samson, who lost in the primary election for Councilwoman Pam Haley’s seat in 2017, said he chose to run again because he believes as a business owner he would lend a “good hand” to budgeting and upholding citizens’ constitutional rights.
Samson, who is the owner of Checker Auto Repair and general manager of Checker Auto Sales, said the city spends too much money on parks and recreation and not enough on road preservation.
“I think they are spending money when they don’t need to spend money. Let’s allocate certain funds to things that we need,” he said. “We’re spending a lot of money on parks and recreation. We’re spending a lot of money on the Pines Road project. I don’t want to see it end up like the City Hall that we did that’s falling apart.”
Spokane Valley filed a claim in February against Meridian Construction, the contractor responsible for building its state-of-the-art City Hall, alleging the structure sustained damage due to soil that wasn’t properly compacted under the foundation.
When Samson ran for City Council in 2017, he faced scrutiny because he had been arrested on a felony theft charge stemming from a furniture store bankruptcy in Kentucky in 2013.
Samson said he was placed on a diversion program for five years, and the charges were dismissed last year.
“I owned three furniture stores, went bankrupt, I owed people money for furniture and they came after me,” he said. “I spent six weeks in jail total, did five years of probation and the case was dismissed.”
Peetz said she’s achieved many goals since she was elected in 2017, including supporting a law enforcement training academy to provide new officers with localized on-the-job training, improving engagement among the city and residents, and advocating to make Spokane Valley a welcoming community.
“One of the ways I’ve done that is speaking at schools and talking to people about civics, our city and how to get involved,” she said.
Peetz said she organized a “coffee chat” with Spokane Valley police Chief Mark Werner, where citizens had an open dialogue on how the city contracts with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to provide a police force, among other things.
“It was a really good conversation. There was a lot of people there that hadn’t been involved in civics before and it was very educational,” she said. “They were able to let us know things that were working or not working.”
Streets face maintenance shortfall
Spokane Valley is grappling with how to fund road preservation, which is paid for through a combination of grants and city funds, including a 6% telephone tax imposed in 2009. The landline telephone tax generated $3.1 million in its first year, but revenue is estimated to drop to $1.7 million this year as more people give up landlines.
The city had a variety of discussions on how to address the street maintenance shortfall, including adding a vehicle tab fee or electricity tax, but chose to forgo those options.
Samson said he would need more information before deciding whether to support a tax. Peetz and Rasmussen said they would impose a new tax for road preservation only as a last resort and only after gathering significant input from the community.
“That’s something we need to seriously take a look at,” Rasmussen said. “We need to have those discussions with the citizens on two things: What are you comfortable driving on, and what are you comfortable paying for, for what you are driving on?”
Spokane Valley needs $6 million to $7 million a year to maintain its roads, according to estimates from city documents.
Peetz said the city has rolled over money into its reserve fund for several years, which could be used to partially pay for road preservation instead of allowing roads to further deteriorate.
The city rolled over $7 million this year, $3 million of which has not been allocated for any projects, she said.
“It would be nice to use it towards other projects, but, ultimately, we have the money; we might as well use it until we find a permanent solution,” she said. “If for some reason there’s an economic downturn, or the citizens believe we should find a permanent solution, I’m not opposed to that.”
Rasmussen said the city should keep its reserve fund and allocate it toward matching federal and state grants for proposed projects, like replacing the Pines Road rail crossing with an underpass.
“We’ve already taken from the general fund last year. And from the 2020 budget discussion, it sounds like the city will be taking again from the reserve fund for road preservation,” she said. “That’s not sustainable. Eventually, it’s not going to be there to take.”
Growth creates housing hurdles
As Spokane Valley continues to grow, a concern among residents is managing development, especially multifamily projects in single-family residential zoning.
“Obviously we’re in a housing crisis. I’m not against development, but I think we should do it responsibly,” Peetz said, adding she would like to see multifamily development along transportation corridors, like Sprague Avenue. “I don’t think I’m ready to open up the single-family residential zoning for multifamily because we have so many pieces of land where they could be going.”
Rasmussen said it’s important to have a mix of housing types to accommodate affordable housing and for retirees and young families choosing to move to the area, but she doesn’t see a need to modify or change single-family residential zoning that allows up to six housing units or three duplexes on an acre.
“The Valley is going to grow simply because we haven’t charged property tax in 10 years. We’ve got amazing streets. We’ve got fantastic education. We’ve got a lot of the key things that across the United States people look at when moving to an area,” Rasmussen said.
The city, she added, has to work within the Growth Management Act to ensure certain levels of housing density.
“It’s a balancing act and, yes, there’s some citizens that are adamant they don’t want the Valley to change,” she said. “And I get it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to.”
Samson said he would take a careful approach to development in the city.
“It’s one of those Catch-22 things. It’s not an easy issue,” he said. “You want to develop, but you want to develop the right things for the right area.”
Council changed public comment rules
Last year, the City Council voted to eliminate a second public comment period during council meetings, instead, extending one 30-minute comment period to 45 minutes.
If re-elected, Peetz would like to take another look at the governance manual changes to allow for more public comment at council meetings.
“People come and want to give their comments. Either they come late from work or have to get home early. So, to have those two opportunities for people to do that, I feel, not only is it fair, it just makes sense,” she said, noting she voted against reducing public comments. “The whole reason we’re in this position is to get input from our citizens, and if we aren’t hearing from them, we aren’t doing our job.”
Rasmussen said she hasn’t heard any complaints from citizens about reducing the public comment time at council meetings.
She added that residents are able to submit comments through the city’s website or by email, which can be forwarded to council members or read aloud by the city clerk at council meetings.
“If the citizens say that they would like to see something different, I’m sure it’s something that could be revisited,” she said. “But, from what I understand, it’s not that big of a concern by the citizens.”
Peetz, Rasmussen compete for funds
Peetz has raised more than $12,100 in campaign contributions from labor unions, businesses, residents, former Mayor Dean Grafos and former council members Chuck Hafner and Bill Gothmann, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Rasmussen also has raised more than $12,000. Among her contributors are Mayor Rod Higgins and council members Arne Woodard and Pam Haley. She also has backing from former councilman Ed Pace and developer Dennis Crapo, according to PDC reports.
Samson has more than $1,300 in contributions from himself, Collins Construction and proceeds from a “low-cost fundraiser,” which are events that generate small contributions, according to PDC reports.
Goals if elected
Rasmussen said her goals are public safety, fiscal responsibility and creating good-paying jobs in Spokane Valley. She said her daughter had to move out of the area to find employment, and that’s happening to many other people.
“It’s really important to be able to keep family members together. The strength of your community comes from the strength of family units,” she said. “We have phenomenal schools and universities. Let’s keep that talent here where they can earn a real good living and stay.”
Samson said he would advocate to build a downtown core in Spokane Valley and uphold citizens’ constitutional rights, which include the Second Amendment.
“It doesn’t matter that (the Constitution) was written two to three hundred years ago. It’s stuff that we are still fighting for today,” he said. “I promise I will be accessible and available. Anybody can come on by Checker Auto Sales and talk to me.”
Peetz said she would continue focusing on public safety, putting residents’ needs first and working to make Spokane Valley a welcoming city.
“I want people to know we are welcoming, we are inclusive, we have that community feel,” she said. “We kind of lost that a little bit, so I would like us to find ways to be more of a community. There’s so many positive things we are doing as a city that people aren’t aware of, and it’s our job to make them aware of what’s going on in our city.”
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