Mukilteo candidates share issue, differ on how to get there

MUKILTEO — City Councilman Richard Emery and the challenger for his position, Bob Champion, agree on many issues, with one notable, nuanced exception.

Champion, an aerospace scientist for Honeywell, says his experience in aviation technology can help keep commercial air service out of Paine Field.

Being able to speak the aerospace language can help him argue against commercial airlines taking up too much space at the airport, he said.

“I don’t want to give Boeing any excuse to look to move their operations anywhere,” Champion said.

Champion, making his first try at public office, also said he can use his expertise to attract aerospace-related businesses to Mukilteo.

Emery says that’s great, “but he doesn’t need to be a council member to do that.”

Emery, who was appointed to the council in 2008 and elected in 2009, said the city’s strategy in opposing passenger service has been successful so far.

Allegiant Air and Alaska Airlines recently withdrew plans to fly from the Snohomish County-owned airport. Still, Emery said the city needs to keep the pressure on the county to continue its policy of refusing to provide any more concessions to airlines than required by federal law.

The city also plans to continue to pursue a lawsuit challenging a ruling by the Federal Aviation Administration that passenger flights would not significantly increase noise, traffic or air pollution around Paine Field, he said.

Emery has been perhaps the most prominent City Council advocate of preserving property in Japanese Gulch for recreation.

The city currently has $4.3 million, most of it in state and county grants, set aside to buy a 98-acre parcel on the west side of the gulch.

The city could still be up to $1.5 million short, depending on a pending appraisal. Emery said he would support, if necessary, using park acquisition funds and real-estate excise tax revenues to make up the difference. If that falls short, the city could borrow from its reserves and pay it back with 1 percent annual property tax increases for a set period.

Still, “I am really not interested in putting the city in shaky fiscal position in order to add (the gulch property), that’s just not appropriate,” Emery said.

Champion counts himself as a gulch preservation supporter. Another option, he said, would potentially be to take advantage of a state treasury program that allows borrowing below market rates.

“I have a sound business background so I look at practical solutions to solving issues,” he said.

Regarding city finances, Champion said he is normally opposed to tax increases but agrees that the recent 1 percent annual property tax increases helped keep the city solvent during the recession.

“Long term, you can’t continue to raise taxes and promote a healthy economy,” he said. “I’m usually loathe to raise taxes unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.”

Emery looks at the issue with a different emphasis.

A 1 percent increase raises about $50,000 for the city and costs the average homeowner about $2.20 per year, according to Emery.

“There’s a good argument to be made for doing that because it’s a small price for everyone to pay and it gives the city some cumulative revenue over time,” he said.

“I’m a little ambivalent about that. It raises my taxes, too. We understand the impact on people because it impacts us.”

Emery said the city avoided deep cuts in services or personnel during the recession with a combination of reserves, selective cuts in areas such as travel and training budgets, and the tax increases.

Another important issue for Emery is guiding the development of the former Air Force tank farm property on the waterfront. While options are limited by plans for construction of a $140 million ferry terminal, Emery said the council can influence design guidelines and use of property the city will likely get from an agreement with the state, tribes and Port of Everett.

Emery and Champion both want to promote increased safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers in Mukilteo.

Champion said open, transparent government also is important to him.

He said the reason he ran against Emery was because he did not have an opponent at the time.

“I believe the people should have a choice,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Meet the candidates

About the job: The seven Mukilteo City Council members set policy for the city. They are paid a flat stipend of $500 per month with no benefits.

Bob Champion

Age: 58

Occupation: Scientist, aerospace business segment of Honeywell International, Redmond

Political experience: None

Website: championforcouncil.org

Richard Emery

Age: 66

Occupation: Self-employed doing home repair and renovation work; landlord for 14 rental units on five properties in Everett, Camano Island and Indiana

Political experience: Mukilteo City Councilman, 2008-present

Website: None

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