City Council candidates Thursday night debated major Spokane Valley issues at a Spokesman-Review event held at the Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center.
Incumbent City Councilman Arne Woodard and challenger Al Merkel, both familiar faces in Spokane Valley politics, led off the evening.
Merkel used a significant portion of his airtime to discuss development. He has repeatedly argued that Spokane Valley should demand more of developers. The Valley should force developers to pay more, he said, and that money should help cover the cost of new infrastructure.
“Our city doesn’t require developers to pay the same types of fees that other similar cities in our area do require them to pay,” Merkel said. “Developers should pay the true cost of what their developments actually cost our city.”
Woodard, who lists economic development among his top campaign priorities, said he believes that developers, for the most part, already pay their fair share. Making business more expensive for developers could have negative consequences, he said.
“You want economic development, you want your kids to stay here,” He said. “But if there’s no jobs for them, they’re not going to stay here.”
Woodard and Merkel disagreed on whether the Spokane Valley City Council should begin taking the 1% property tax increase allowed by state law. The council has traditionally refrained from taking the 1%. That decision has cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 14 years and saved the average homeowner a few dollars a year.
Merkel opposes taking the 1%, and said “now is not the time” for a tax increase, however small.
Woodard has voted for the 1% increase in each of the last two years. He argues the slight tax increase would help the city secure more grant funding and ensure the city’s bond rating remains pristine.
Yaeger and Briscoe
Jessica Yaeger and Rachel Briscoe, two first-time candidates who consider themselves conservatives, have both said public safety will be among their top priorities if elected.
Neither Briscoe nor Yaeger offered many specific ideas for improving public safety, however.
Yaeger said she believes addressing public safety is the City Council’s most important job. She argued that the City Council should lobby to change or pass state laws that “hold criminals accountable.”
Briscoe said she believes the city needs to work with the county Sheriff’s Office to promote community policing.
Yaeger and Briscoe were both noncommittal when asked whether Spokane Valley should begin taking the 1% property tax increase allowed by state law.
Briscoe said she’s proud of the City Council for using taxpayer dollars wisely.
“The current council – very focused on being fiscally responsible,” she said. “It’s one of the things I brag about whenever people ask me about my city.”
Yaeger said the Valley should “make sure taxes are a last resort.”
At the same time, she noted taking the 1% would generate revenue that could go toward hiring more police officers.
Briscoe and Yaeger rarely differed significantly in their statements.
Neither candidate was interested in sharing their views on former state Rep. Matt Shea, who was ousted by his own caucus after an independent investigation found he committed an act of domestic terrorism in 2016 by helping plan an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Yaeger stood alongside Shea several months ago during a Christian rock concert in downtown Spokane.
“I don’t really know how long you guys are going to beat this dead horse,” Yaeger said. “I don’t know Matt Shea.”
Briscoe also said she doesn’t know Shea.
“I had several people ask me if I was going to use this against my opponent, and my answer was no,” she said. “I didn’t see anything wrong with praying on stage.”
Hattenburg and Chase
Incumbent Tim Hattenburg has been a Democratic Party precinct committee officer for the last 30 years. Challenger Rob Chase is a former Republican state legislator with libertarian leanings.
Despite their dramatically different political views, Hattenberg and Chase rarely disagreed significantly during their time onstage.
Hattenburg has repeatedly said he loves the nonpartisan nature of the City Council. Party affiliations shouldn’t matter, he said, noting that the Spokane Valley City Council primarily deals with apolitical issues, such as road maintenance and construction.
“It’s mostly about budgeting and being good stewards of our budget,” Hattenburg said.
Chase brought up Measure 1, the 0.2% sales tax measure that voters will weigh in on during the general election. That sales tax would raise more than $1 billion dollars and allow Spokane County to build two new jails.
Chase, who expressed his opposition to several taxes during the debate, said he’s opposed to Measure 1. He said voters need more information on how the money would be spent – a view Hattenburg shares.
“It needs more transparency,” he said.
Hattenburg said he’s in favor of the 1% property tax increase, although the City Council won’t be approving it this year despite his support.
A 1% tax increase would bring the city an extra $150,000 or so a year, Hattenburg said. That money could pay for an additional police officer, he said, which would be a boon for public safety.
Chase said he opposes the 1%, and also said – when referring to taxes the Valley could impose to fund road maintenance – that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.”
“You’ve got to make sure if you have to raise a tax it’s going to be adding value,” he said.
Both candidates, with varying degrees of certainty, said they want Spokane Valley to continue contracting with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement. The Valley police department is an extension of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
“Philosophically, I like decentralization,” Chase said.
Hattenberg supported the sheriff’s office contract more emphatically.
“If it works well, we need to stay with it,” Hattenburg said of the Sheriff’s Office contract, “and I think it works well.”
Colin Tiernan, the Spokesman-Review Spokane County and Spokane Valley government reporter, moderated Thursday night’s debate.