The race to lead the fast-growing stateline community of Liberty Lake pits one of only two mayors who has served the city since its founding and a councilman who believes the city must improve long-term plans for roads and other needs.
Steve Peterson, 69, has held the office of mayor for all but four years of Liberty Lake’s existence, which began with incorporation in August 2001. Peterson, a retired pharmaceutical and retail salesman, touts his work to improve the city’s extensive trail and parks system. He hopes to build upon that progress in a fourth term.
“We’ve got it this far, there’s a little bit further ways to go with the infrastructure, and it’s kind of a passion that I have,” said Peterson from behind the wheel of his personal golf cart (legal on the streets of Liberty Lake), while taking in the view of Pavilion Park on a sunny morning last week. “Back in the day in 2000, I was 50, I had a full-time job and stuff, and I was busy. Now I’m retired, and now it’s kind of a full-time, fun job.”
The city’s volunteer salary commission met in April and increased the mayor’s pay for the city of Liberty Lake to $2,250 a month, or $27,000 annually.
Shane Brickner, a 44-year-old volunteer police officer and sales manager for a private toxicology lab, chose to run to replace Peterson rather than again for the council seat he’s held since 2012. While Brickner also sees a growing, vibrant community in Liberty Lake, he argued City Hall could be doing more to anticipate growth in its pedestrian and traffic plans and be better stewards of taxpayer dollars.
“I think we have to be a lot more forward-thinking when it comes to (traffic),” Brickner said. “I don’t want to see us ever have to compromise the city, and what the community has learned to love about the city. Really, I don’t want to compromise the infrastructure that’s supporting us.”
Signs proclaiming new development, along with water and electricity hookups reaching out of the ground, are common sights along the main thoroughfares of Liberty Lake. Growth is coming, both candidates agree, with population forecasts predicting a total of around about 16,000 new residents by 2037, an increase of 63% from 2017, when officials last drafted their population forecasts for the region..
By comparison, the population of Spokane is expected to grow just 9% during that same time.
Peterson said planning for a community that will accommodate that growth and maintain Liberty Lake’s quality of life will include big thinking, like his push for a community center that failed on the ballot both in 2016 and 2017. The center would have been adjacent to Town Square Park, where Liberty Lake hosts farmers markets on Saturday mornings from May through October.
Peterson said the City Council, including his opponent, didn’t do enough to promote that project.
“I believe in incremental steps,” Peterson said. “If I can build the Town Square Park, just give me the opportunity to build the park. Then maybe I can build that library, that community center, something else.”
Brickner was one of four council members who voted to put the $9 million construction bond on the August 2017 ballot. But, he said, he had concerns about the scope of the project, which originally was presented as a $12 million center that included aquatics facilities. Voting records show Brickner did not cast a ballot in the 2017 special election.
“I think that because the city’s growing so much, it can and should be revisited at some point,” Brickner said. “But I don’t think we need to create such an elaborate system. When those bonds came forward, for the community to vote on, I was very vocal, I think it’s too grandiose. I feel it’s going to fail, because it’s too grandiose.”
Brickner said in order to support increased spending on public services as the city grows, Liberty Lake needs to diversify its sales tax base by attracting not only large-scale firms, but also local small businesses.
“If we have a downturn in the economy, which is possible – I know some people are talking about that in the next couple of years – if we had a downturn in the economy here locally, and a car dealership, or an RV dealership up and left, we’d be in a lot of trouble, financially,” Brickner said. “That would be a huge hit.”
Peterson said the city’s done well recruiting and supporting large-scale employers, such as Itron, the technology and services company with a 185,000-square-foot facility off Appleway Avenue, as well as providing a welcoming space for smaller firms. He said Liberty Lake is well-poised to attract science and technology businesses from Western Washington due to its cheaper land and proximity to transportation hubs.
“You’re part of a cluster,” Peterson said of Liberty Lake’s manufacturing hub. “You’ve got these manufacturing businesses that allow you to do some of your production with them, rather than do it yourself.”
Both men said Liberty Lake should continue to take a 1% property tax increase allowed by law without a vote to support the necessary growth in services that comes with more residents. They pointed to the tax rates in Liberty Lake being lower than surrounding communities, including Spokane Valley, where city lawmakers have consistently shot down tax increases over the past several years.
Ballots for the November general election will be mailed in the middle of October. Peterson and Brickner were the only candidates who filed for mayor, so no August primary was held in the contest.
Peterson opted for mini-filing, meaning he won’t raise or spend more than $5,000 on his campaign.
Brickner has raised $8,775 in his mayoral bid, according to Public Disclosure Commission reports filed as of Aug. 20. Of that total, $3,000 has come from Brickner himself, with a $1,000 contribution from Kevin Rudeen, chief executive officer of Rudeen Development, which has developed an office complex and warehouse in Liberty Lake.
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