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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Deer Park city council candidates disagree on finances, accessibility

When she ran for re-election for Deer Park City Council in 2019, Helen (Dee) Cragun thought this term would be her last. She changed her mind.

“What I started to work on and complete was not completed,” she said. “I just think it was the best thing that if I run again and to complete everything.”

“I’ve been on the council so long that I’m experienced and can guide newcomers.”

Her challenger, Fred Senn, believes Deer Park is a bit “stagnant” and the city council needs to be more responsive to citizens.

“They don’t go out of the way to encourage folks to show up, discuss issues,” he said. “I’m just trying to get more involvement in the community. We’re not seeing people participating enough.”

An important issue for Cragun is finances.

“We have other council members that want to better everything which is understandable, like building a new city hall or remodeling and our own police department,” Cragun said, “but we don’t need to spend the money right now.”

Cragun thinks Deer Park’s infrastructure is keeping up with its growth but doesn’t know how long that will last.

“Who knows down the road, what if something would happen? We wouldn’t have the funds to repair it so we’d have to take out a loan which would cost taxpayers, and I’ve refused to increase our tax rates,” she said. “My goal is to cut the expense, cut spending for nonessential things. We have to first look out for the citizens of Deer Park and after we do that, then we can put the money that’s left aside into a reserve account in case of future problems.”

Senn, who has had two previous unsuccessful runs for city council, has a different take on the issue.

“I think that there’s just so much more that can be done that hasn’t been done,” Senn said. “To me it seems like we’re just kind of stagnant. I know my opponent wants to make sure we’re in the black, but I think we need to do more for the kids.”

Senn referenced building a splash pad in the city’s Swinyard Park, an idea that Cragun spearheaded for years, only to vote against it when the city was unable to secure a grant to help fund the facility, not wanting to ask voters for a bond.

Still, Senn agrees with Cragun when it comes to the City Hall.

“The renovation of the of the City Hall, that’s a lot of money. I don’t know if that’s well spent,” he said.

Both candidates are happy with Deer Park’s recent growth.

“I think it’s on the positive side, having new families in here and creating more diversity and it’s just a good thing,” Cragun said.

“I think that’s just natural progression, I don’t know that we need to worry too much,” Senn said. “Bringing more folks in, we got more tax money coming in.”

Senn pointed out that high school students often already commute to Spokane when looking for something to do.

“Students never thought we were too big,” he said.

During the pandemic, the City Council held meetings over a telephone system complete with background noises including barking dogs and televisions, leading some council members to call for the city to modernize its technology.

Cragun voted against city emails for council members and live streaming council meetings.

“It’s not a necessity,” Cragun said of streaming council meetings. “People, you know, if they have questions and so forth, they wanna see what’s going on, they can come in and see.”

“I just don’t think that Deer Park is quite ready for it yet. There’s a lot of internet users and so forth here, but there’s also a lot of senior citizens and they need to get out once in a while and at least we have somebody in the audience. We could all stay home and never leave their home, but I think it’s a necessity that we get together.”

Senn said he would support setting up city emails for council members and streaming council meetings live.

“I don’t know why that couldn’t be a possibility, I would support that,” he said.

Roberta Simonson's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.