Unless you've stopped by for one of the forums hosted by civic groups or local chambers of commerce, you might have missed the battle of ideas going amidst all that grime.
So we asked the Democratic incumbent county executive, Aaron Reardon, and his Republican opponent, state Rep. Mike Hope, where they stand on an array of topics.
Roads: Snohomish County's long-term funding for roads is falling short. What's the fix? Would you support a $20 vehicle-tab fee? What about increasing property taxes to pay for county roads?
Hope: Opposes a $20 vehicle-tab fee because voters repeatedly have rejected increases. An increase in the roads levy has to be on the table, but other alternatives should be explored first. The county needs to revisit which road projects it should undertake given the current state of the economy. Ultimately, jobs, and a plan to create them, are the solution to solving this issue.
Reardon: Opposes a $20 vehicle-tab fee or increasing the county's roads levy. Says award-winning programs have helped people find alternatives to driving while innovative funding strategies are helping to deliver more traffic improvements than ever before. Despite challenges, the county's six-year transportation plan is fully funded and the county's roads less congested than before. Future roads planning must address growth patterns, funding and prioritize projects.
Taxes: Would you support any increase in property taxes or service fees?
Reardon: No. Unlike other local governments, Snohomish County has a balanced budget and a growing rainy-day fund and has not raised taxes. Local citizens cannot afford any tax increases. Local government must prioritize services within existing revenues. Continued state cuts could weigh on services for the vulnerable. Olympia needs to address its budget problems in a sustainable way.
Hope: The conversation that needs to take place now is how to get people back to work. All of our problems can be solved when unemployment numbers return to where they were a few years ago. With people working, it's possible to fund schools, road maintenance and social services. In better economic times, county leaders were discussing how much to save or spend, not which taxes or fees to raise.
Point Wells: Is a developer's proposal to build 3,081 condominium units along Puget Sound near Woodway too large? What should Snohomish County do to address concerns from Woodway and nearby Shoreline? Should the area be zoned an urban center?
Hope: Yes, it is too large. Richmond Beach Drive, with just two lanes, is not conducive to gain access into the community. The infrastructure is not in place to support such a venture, and a potential emergency response would depend on King County resources. State laws are clear that these issues should be addressed before going forward. Hope also believes the project would further tilt the county toward an imbalance of too many homes and not enough commercial development.
Reardon: Shoreline and Woodway have legitimate concerns about impacts to their quality of life that need to be addressed before any project moves forward. Done correctly, an urban center is a much lower-cost alternative to the sprawling growth that our county has seen in previous decades. A smaller project that fits the character of the community, relies on a credible transportation plan, eliminates an existing eyesore and provides needed environmental cleanup could be a win-win.
Public safety: Police, jail and court functions consume about three-quarters of Snohomish County's general fund budget. Which steps would you recommend to control costs without sacrificing service?
Reardon: Snohomish County has consistently maintained funding for law and justice services even as other areas of the county budget have been trimmed back. Sheriff John Lovick and other leaders of the county's public safety team deserve credit for controlling the growth in public safety spending by finding more efficient ways to do business. The county needs to look at consolidating services, contracting with cities and other regional efficiencies as large annexations continue to shift population from the county into cities.
Hope: It is imperative that the county government focus on its core missions and one of them is to protect the public. Crime problems are solved holistically, and creating jobs is one part of that approach, since people who are working and who get a decent wage are not likely to cause problems. His 14 years in law enforcement and service on the Legislature's public safety committee give him insight, particularly about what works to fight crime. Points out he's supported by the Snohomish County Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Jobs: Explain what role the county executive should have in creating jobs.
Hope: The county executive can help create jobs by understanding what businesses need from the county and by having good working relationships with local business and civic leaders. It's important that the executive understand what opportunities each city presents for attracting business. The county executive can aid in job creation by understanding which regulations are most burdensome and removing them. The executive also can advocate for local business at the state level. I've got great relationships with state legislators on both sides of the aisle, and will be a strong advocate for Snohomish County businesses
Reardon: As county executive I have focused on ensuring that Snohomish County is the most cost-effective and competitive place for businesses to invest and grow. The county has landed new jobs from the likes of Korry Electronics, Aviation Technical Services, Comcast and others by proving that it can deliver permits and projects faster than other competing areas. The county has invested in workforce training, including partnering to create an aerospace training center at Paine Field. Helped craft the legislation to land Boeing's 787, was a vocal advocate for securing the 767-based tanker and is committed to securing the next lines of the 737 in Snohomish County.
Cultural affairs: Do arts, parks and cultural activities have a place in strained county budgets?
Reardon: Studies routinely show that investing in cultural activities and parks helps drive business investment and improves the health of a community. Snohomish County, in particular with its parks, has developed a model that is largely self-sufficient and provides the greatest return on taxpayer dollars. When the Great Recession hit and families began traveling less, many people turned to their neighborhood and community parks. Unlike other jurisdictions, Snohomish County has continued to grow its parks system rather than chain the gates.
Hope: The county has an extremely diverse community and it must recognize that culture. Arts, sports, parks and cultural activities are essential for Snohomish County and for the surrounding region. Sports build community. Strongly believes in public-private partnerships, especially in an economy where these assets are being cut. An example is a plan in the Legislature to bring an NBA team to the region and entice an NHL team. Believes this is possible without raising taxes. A professional sports team can generate millions of dollars in state and local revenues for schools, public safety and other areas.
Growth: A common complaint, especially a few years ago, was the proliferation of dense, suburban-style development that many complained didn't match the surroundings. This was especially true in unincorporated areas. What would you do to better plan the county's future growth?
Hope: First, growth needs to happen within the cities and their urban growth areas. That is the goal of the state's Growth Management Act, but unfortunately it hasn't always been the case. Second, once the county begins focusing growth in the right areas, it needs to make sure the development in the county matches the cities. Wants to work closely with planning commissions and city councils around the county to ensure the look and feel of what's built in the county matches what's in the neighboring city. Wants to create more jobs in Snohomish County so fewer locals need to commute to Seattle or elsewhere for work.
Reardon: It's critically important to balance the environmental and infrastructure benefits of controlling sprawl with the effects that compact new development can have on existing neighborhoods. Washington's Growth Management Act requires local governments to grow in a more compact fashion than in the past. On top of this, the building boom in the middle of the past decade saw land prices skyrocket. That created a spike in small-lot development that wasn't foreseen in local land-use policies. Many issues have been addressed already in code with the County Council, but opportunities remain to shape the future of local neighborhoods by rewriting the county's Comprehensive Plan.
I-1125: Where do you stand on Initiative 1125, the Tim Eyman-sponsored measure to limit highway tolling?
Reardon: Agrees with many aspects of Initiative 1125, but has reservations about placing generic restrictions on the type of transportation funding options on the table and politicizing polling decisions. Personally favors alternatives to tolling, such as enhancing public-private partnerships. Individual projects where the local people support tolling could be harder to put together under the language of this initiative.
Hope: Supports Initiative 1125. Says gas taxes and vehicle tolls are user fees for people who use roads and that this revenue should go toward road projects. Believes the true solution to funding roads is creating jobs. When people are working, it will provide funding for roads, education and other needed services. Points again to his plan to bring jobs to Snohomish County.
Aaron Reardon (incumbent)
• Age: 40
• Occupation: Snohomish County executive, Sound Transit board chairman; former state representative and senator for the 38th Legislative District.
• Residence: Everett
• Party: Democrat
• Website: www.aaronreardon.com
• Priorities: Landing the super site for the next generation Boeing 737, helping small businesses grow, maintaining Snohomish County's fiscal responsibility.
• Age: 36
• Occupation: Seattle police officer, state representative for the 44th Legislative District, former gym owner.
• Residence: Lake Stevens
• Party: Republican
• Website: www.hopeforexec.com
• Priorities: Creating jobs, allowing more commercial development to balance out the county's residential development and strengthening relationships with city governments.
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