Spokane Valley Councilwoman Brandi Peetz and challenger Michelle Rasmussen both hope to focus on public safety and a regional solution to homelessness if they win a four-year term on the City Council in November, but they differ on much else, including how to pay for infrastructure improvements and whether the city should consider adopting equity and diversity policies.
Peetz, a former 911 dispatcher who was elected in 2017, came in first in the primary with almost 47% of the vote. Rasmussen, a senior director for campus services at Eastern Washington University and a former executive assistant to the city manager, came in a close second, beating Rocky Samson to move into the general election.
Peetz said one of her biggest public safety priorities is working to bring a law enforcement academy to the area so more officers can be trained to fill vacancies in the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which contracts with Spokane Valley to police the city.
Peetz said she also would like Spokane Valley to have its own mental health crisis response team. The sheriff’s department and Spokane Police Department both have teams of health care professionals paired with an officer to respond to mental health emergencies. Peetz said Spokane Valley should have a team specifically assigned to Spokane Valley and hopes to include money in the budget to pay for it.
Rasmussen and Peetz agreed that homelessness has become a public safety issue in Spokane Valley.
Rasmussen said the increasing number of people living on lawns or in public places has put added pressure on law enforcement. Dealing with the issue of homelessness is difficult, she said, because Spokane Valley doesn’t have relevant laws on the books or a place to send people who are homeless.
Rasmussen said the city should revise its municipal codes to address homelessness, but should wait until after the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to weigh in on a lower court ruling that bars law enforcement from citing people for camping or sleeping on public property when there is no low-barrier shelter space available.
“Until that decision gets looked at, that situation can’t be touched,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said low-barrier shelters, which don’t have restrictions on who can stay in them, can’t be the only way to address homelessness. She said she was interested in supporting a regional shelter with the city of Spokane, but that Spokane Valley also needs to look at what other communities have done and research other ways to address the problem long term.
“I’m a firm believer in starting small, testing and revising as needed,” Rasmussen said. “We don’t know if that’s going to be the answer. At this point, Seattle’s been a good example of what hasn’t been the answer. We need to look at what they’ve been throwing money at, what’s worked, what hasn’t. I think it’s a bigger picture here. We need to look at very, very many sides. I don’t think anybody has the answers.”
Peetz said she also supports joining Spokane and Spokane County in starting a regional homeless shelter and would like it to be located at the location proposed earlier this summer, at the former Grocery Outlet at Havana Street and East Sprague Avenue.
“I would be more interested in a regional approach with the county and the city, because that’s something we need to get on top of right now,” Peetz said. “If we do not get on board with this approach, I feel like the city’s going to miss the boat, and we’ll have to come up with funds ourselves.”
Peetz and Rasmussen differ on how Spokane Valley should pay for street repairs. One of the city’s main sources of revenue supporting those projects – the phone tax – has dropped signicantly in recent years as residents cancel their landlines.
Peetz, who has supported using the city’s surplus revenue to pay for roads, said she would consider a new plan to pay for roads once there is a downturn in the economy and paying for roads becomes an issue. She said there is currently enough surplus to pay for roads and that the city should avoid looking for more money if it has some it isn’t spending.
“We’re in such a good place financially, and we’re very fiscally conservative at the city, and so I’d imagine that if we did have any emergencies come up, we’ve got a lot of contingencies in place,” Peetz said. “I think we should take advantage of that and use the money that we have.”
Rasmussen called Peetz’s suggestion to continue to use surplus money “ludicrous” and said it doesn’t offer a long-term solution. She said she would go to voters through community forums to hear how they would like to pay for roads. If the public said they did not want to pay for better roads, Rasmussen said she would respect the public’s wishes and forgo road repairs until the demand was there.
“It’s their choice,” she said. “The pavement preservation would be narrowed down to the revenues we have, whatever that is. In a downturn, there wouldn’t be much pavement preservation.”
She said she did not yet have a plan if residents decide they are willing to pay for better roads.
The candidates also differed in their response to recent calls from residents and area activist groups for the Spokane Valley City Council to consider a policy of equity and inclusion. Those calls have come in response to tense and awkward exchanges about race at recent City Council meetings and to reporting about controversial Spokane Valley state Rep. Matt Shea.
Spokane Valley passed a resolution in 2017 declaring Spokane Valley an inclusive city and saying discrimination was not allowed, but some council members, such as Linda Thompson, said this summer that the city should take another look at it after recent events and to repair the perception of Spokane Valley across the region.
Peetz said looking at the city’s policies, especially after calls from some citizens, couldn’t hurt.
“It’s something we should at least entertain,” Peetz said. “That doesn’t mean we have to change anything, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t inclusive, that just means we need to take the feedback people are giving us and we need to validate people’s concerns. We just want people to know this is a community where they can feel safe.”
Rasmussen said the city already has policies prohibiting discrimination against the public and city employees. And she emphasized that the City Council already has approved a policy declaring Spokane Valley inclusive.
“What do we hope to gain by re-wordsmithing it?” she said.
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