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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council president debate: Wilkerson, Plese spar on homelessness, public safety as Election Day nears

After their debate, City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, left, shakes hands with retired businesswoman Kim Plese during the Northwest Passages Pints and Politics town hall on Wednesday in the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center at Gonzaga University. The two are running for the Spokane City Council president. The town hall was moderated by Spokesman-Review reporter Emry Dinman.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Policing and homelessness garnered much of the attention as candidates for Spokane City Council president took the Spokesman-Review-hosted debate stage Wednesday night at Gonzaga University.

Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson and retired businesswoman Kim Plese are vying for the spot held by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear that was vacated by Breean Beggs.

A key issue in the race between Wilkerson and Plese has been support for law enforcement, and the topic came up again at Wednesday’s Pints and Politics debate put on through the newspaper’s Northwest Passages event series.

Wilkerson said she voted to boost police funding and supported Spokane police since she came on the council and will continue to lobby for additional funds.

“All the things that they have requested and tools they have needed to keep them safe and effective on the job, the council has supported,” Wilkerson said. “So there is this narrative that council has not supported police, and that is not true.”

Plese said Wilkerson’s voting record does not support those statements. Plese said she is “pro-police,” and that she has “their back.”

When asked how to reduce crime, Plese said, “enforce the laws, No. 1.” She claimed the City Council and state legislators made it harder for police .

Wilkerson said the community needs to be part of the policing model.

“There is this collaboration that needs to happen more between police and communities because we can be a partnership in helping to police our own neighborhoods,” she said.

As for homelessness, both candidates said the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, the homeless shelter on Trent Avenue, is not sustainable.

“There is not enough money to continue to fund TRAC the way it is designed today,” Wilkerson said. “It runs about $9 million per year.”

She said officials are looking at winding the shelter down, and she hopes another organization takes over.

“I will work really hard to find money until there’s a better solution,” Wilkerson said.

Plese said the shelter is the only alternative with winter on the horizon, but perhaps the shelter could cut back from serving three meals a day to two meals.

Plese said some on the council believe the shelter is not “homey enough.”

“People are living on the street,” she said. “It’s not the Davenport Hotel. They have a roof over their head.”

Both candidates were asked whether they would raise property taxes to fill the estimated $20 million hole in next year’s budget.

Wilkerson said she would, and Plese said she would not.

Wilkerson said paying overtime for police and fire services is part of the problem, but she does not want to cut services and employees.

“We are spending more than we are bringing in, and at some point something has to give,” she said.

Plese said the last thing she wants to do is raise taxes as working families are still reeling from the pandemic. She questioned increased hiring after COVID-19 when financial times were tough.

She said public safety is one thing she would not cut.

Both candidates said they would support reducing speed limits around city parks.

Plese said she has the background as a longtime former business owner to be the next council president.

“I’m willing to give the next four years of my life to this city to make it even better than it is right now, because I don’t recognize my city anymore,” Plese said.

Wilkerson said her skills in leadership and as a business owner, as well as her experience on the council, make her the right choice.

“The choice is experienced leadership that listens, a leader who knows the job, a leader who knows the community,” she said.

Ballots will be mailed to voters next week for the election on Nov. 7.