EVERETT — In the race for Everett’s mayor, voters have a choice between a longtime transit employee and the incumbent, who was the first woman elected to the position.
Steve Oss, 60, is challenging Mayor Cassie Franklin, 50, to run city hall for the next four years. The mayor oversees day-to-day operations of over 1,000 employees, prepares an operating budget and implements policies set by the council. The monthly salary is $16,246.
Everett has had a budget deficit for almost two decades, the result of limited revenue growth and steady expense increases mostly tied to salaries and wages.
Oss has worked for Everett Transit since 1997. He started as a driver and has been an inspector for about 15 years. He has been the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 883, which represents Everett Transit employees, for 16 years.
He wants the city to make tax base gains through commercial development and sales growth. To do so, he said the city needs to be “more business friendly” by addressing homelessness.
“We need to clean up our streets,” Oss said. “You’ve got bodily excrement out there on the streets, you’ve got needles and drugs.”
In response, he wants to continue offering assistance to people and enforcing laws, such as the “no sit, no lie rule“ that was implemented in tandem with the city’s purchase of temporary shelters.
“For those that actually want the assistance, I think there’s probably enough out there,” he said. “We’ve got an $18 million deficit, there’s only so much we can do. We’re handcuffed.”
“We had a $13 million deficit my first year,” Franklin said. “There’s no way you can close that gap without making cuts.”
On her direction this year, city staff looked for private agencies to lease city property or operate some city services to generate new revenue. It has yielded deals for the plant growing buildings at Legion Memorial Park and the Carl Gipson Senior Center, among others.
“We get to keep it, and the city doesn’t have to run it,” Franklin said.
Her 2022 budget proposal did not have cuts in part thanks to federal pandemic stimulus funds. If elected, her priorities are based in climate change action and economic recovery. That includes implementing the Housing Action Plan to spur housing development and density; diversifying city staff, particularly in the fire and police departments; and exploring a behavioral health program with the municipal court.
Franklin expects soon to give the council proposals for spending American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds. Her preference is that the money go toward infrastructure and social services to address homelessness, child care, and Everett Forward grants to support people of color.
“Everybody benefits from us addressing challenges like homelessness,” Franklin said. “Investments in childcare are going to help everybody. Investments in economic recovery are going to benefit everybody.”
She also has said it is time for the City Council to put a levy lid lift on the ballot next year for voters to decide what they’re willing to spend for city services.
Voters could see, if the council puts it on a ballot, measures to merge the fire department with other agencies to create a regional district, or the city’s transit operations with Community Transit. City staff are evaluating both options.
Oss disagrees with ceding existing services to other governmental bodies.
“It doesn’t remove that financial responsibility from the citizens,” he said.
If fire or transit were merged with other agencies, residents would pay for them through property and sales taxes. But the move would take the financial obligation and direct control from the city.
Instead, Oss said he would ask departments to cobble together $500,000 in expense cuts that could be sustained monthly. After a few years, that would amount to $18 million.
He also proposed expanding permit operations to reduce development delays. For example, he suggested opening the city’s permit office one weekend per month to receive permit applications and to help people fill them out. That could require more money for more permit office staff and hours.
Franklin had amassed over $83,000 in campaign contributions from a mix of political action committees, unions and residents.
As of Tuesday, Oss had not filed any campaign funding or expenses. He said he chose not to fundraise so his campaign wasn’t about “spending a lot of money.”