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News >  Local government

Race for Liberty Lake mayor features two candidates with experience at top post

Oct. 13, 2021 Updated Thu., Oct. 14, 2021 at 4:02 p.m.

Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas faces former Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson in the November election.
Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas faces former Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson in the November election.

Steve Peterson was Liberty Lake’s first mayor, and he wants to be its next.

But current mayor Cris Kaminskas, who was appointed to the post earlier this year, is seeking a first full term in office.

The race has centered on issues that are familiar to longtime residents of the rapidly growing city, including infrastructure, transportation and taxes.

Peterson points to his long resume in Liberty Lake leadership. He was the first mayor elected following the city’s incorporation, taking office in 2001 and serving through 2007.

Peterson then served a second stint as mayor from 2012 until he lost a bid for reelection in 2019 to Shane Brickner.

Brickner resigned last December after a year in office. Kaminskas, who had served on the City Council for more than a decade, won the approval of her colleagues on the City Council and was appointed to temporarily fill the vacancy left by Brickner.

Now, she’s looking to secure the position in the November election, touting the progress she’s made in less than a year at the top post.

“It does not feel like a job at all,” Kaminskas said. “If I could do it full time, I would.”

As mayor, Peterson led the effort for the city to buy the Trailhead Golf Course and protect its greenspace. Now, he’s critical of the city’s plans to invest about $8.2 million in a new clubhouse and improvements at the nine-hole golf course.

Peterson is concerned the project will saddle the city with more than $6 million in debt that would have to be paid out of the city’s general fund.

“There’s not enough money coming in to cover that debt service,” Peterson said.

Kaminskas argues the current building is decades old, failing and unsafe, and that the expanded driving range will be a “cash cow” for the city.

Peterson pledged to keep a close eye on city spending. The city’s operations are currently based out of several buildings, Peterson said, and it needs to “try to figure out how to operate out of one.”

But Kaminskas argued her predecessor’s inclination for consolidation resulted in problems like the former finance director taking on human resources duties. Twenty years after the city was incorporated, it has its first human resources manager, who has helped bring the city’s policies up to date.

“What’s happened over the years is we’ve had people needing to become jacks of all trades, spreading themselves thin, and doing things that are not their expertise … It’s either you pay more now in salaries, or you pay more later to correct mistakes that were made because people were overloaded,” Kaminskas said.

New positions have been funded with existing revenue streams and not by raising taxes, Kaminskas said.

Peterson points to a long record of identifying outside sources of revenue.

With other elected leaders, Peterson said he helped advocate for the tax financing systems that led to development of the River District north of the Spokane River and various public infrastructure improvements.

“Now, one of my goals over there is to create a connection between the River District and Ridgeline High School,” Peterson said.

Peterson said his advocacy at the state level was key to moving state funding forward for a variety of improvements near Harvard Road and Interstate 90. The work, funded through Connecting Washington, included a widened Harvard Road bridge, and ramps and new roundabouts at the Barker Road interchange.

“If you are not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. You have to be over in Olympia, you have to be advocating for this stuff,” Peterson said. “You have to do it in a way that you’re getting buy-in from all these other groups.”

Such work also takes planning, Peterson said.

“I’ve been a big proponent of making sure our infrastructure is in the vision not just today, but five and 10 years from now,” Peterson said.

Kaminskas argued that the city doesn’t necessarily have a volume issue on its roads, but does have a circulation issue. The expansion of the Harvard Road Bridge was a good first step, and she said a planned project on Kramer Parkway across Interstate 90, connecting Mission Avenue on the north to Country Vista Drive to the south, also will help alleviate traffic.

And while Liberty Lake residents may be concerned about growth, Kaminskas noted that some property in the city is zoned for multifamily development.

“It’s hard to think about to downzone a property and not open the city and citizens up to very expensive lawsuits,” Kaminskas said.

Still, Kaminskas said the City Council, on which she served for nearly 11 years before her appointment as mayor, has a strong track record of rejecting proposed development that requires a zoning change.

To Peterson, the biggest challenge the growing city faces is that it needs “true leadership.”

“It isn’t just sitting in your chair at council meetings and signing some stuff on Wednesday morning after the council passed it,” Peterson said.

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