EDMONDS — While the city seems to have made it through the worst of a recent financial crisis, the eight candidates running for office are talking about how to keep the city solvent in the future.
The city’s finances were in such trouble that in 2009, the city eliminated its century-old fire department and voted to contract for service with Snohomish County Fire District 1. Earlier in the year, the city laid off employees and put others on furlough to make up for a $5.2 million budget shortfall.
With these and other cuts the past few years, the city has balanced its budget, but future revenue remains uncertain in a lean economy, officials say.
That’s one reason why the City Council voted to put three separate levies on the ballot this fall, asking property owners to pony up more money for streets, building maintenance and parks improvements, and general city operations.
If all three levies are approved, they would cost the owner of a $375,000 home about $167 per year through 2014.
Candidates have varying takes on the levies.
Councilwoman Diane Buckshnis, 54, was appointed to the council in January 2010 following the death of Councilwoman Peggy Pritchard Olson from ALS.
A former bank regulator, Buckshnis said she favored putting the levies on the ballot “to allow the citizens to be part of the budgetary process.”
She’s not enthusiastic about all three measures, however. She said she’ll probably vote for the streets and parks measures but not the levy for the general fund because the city has yet to demonstrate enough financial transparency in that area, she said.
Her opponent, Bob Wilcox, 59, is the retired former owner of Wilcox Construction. He said his business experience can help the city run more efficiently and the levies are a perfect example.
“They voted to put those on the ballot before they put together a budget,” he said. “If I were to go a bank and ask for a loan before I’d put together a budget for a building, do you think I’d get that loan? They put the cart before the horse.”
Newcomer Joan Bloom, 60, is taking on Councilman D.J. Wilson, 36, nearing the end of his first term.
Bloom and Wilson each oppose the levies but for different reasons.
“I feel strongly that they have not done enough to rein in expenses,” Bloom said. She said the building services department, which has seen a decline in applications for new construction, is where she would first look to cut.
Bloom also says the city needs to make it easier for people to get information about the city online.
“We have a right to know what actions are being taken on our behalf of our money,” she said.
Wilson says he opposes the levies “because they misprioritize our city services. Building maintenance is not a higher priority than public safety.”
Wilson said the police department is down two officers and has lost its crime prevention unit, DARE program and school resource officer the past few years. He said he will push to get the two officers and prevention unit restored.
Public safety is also important to Darlene Stern, whose late husband, David Stern, died of a brain aneurysm in 2007 while serving as the city’s police chief. She is running against incumbent Lora Petso, who is serving her second stint on the council.
“Law enforcement has no voice in politics at all,” said Stern, 64.
Also, she’d like to see more done to help smaller business districts in the city, such as Five Corners and Westgate.
“You can pay attention to what their needs are, listen to them, find out what they believe they need in their areas,” she said.
While she said the levies were made necessary by poor planning, she supports them “because I want to have the quality of life that I think should be enjoyed by this city.”
City property taxes have been kept low for several years, she said, and “it’s time to pay the piper.”
Petso favors the parks and streets levies but not the one for the general fund because she doesn’t believe salaries should be funded by a temporary revenue source.
Petso, 49, was first elected to the council in 1999 and served through 2003. She was appointed again last year when longtime Councilman Dave Orvis stepped down.
She said her experience would be helpful in the coming years. In her first term, Petso earned a reputation as a budget hawk. She said the city will have to plan for bringing in more revenue a few years down the road.
“We’re really pretty solid right now,” she said.
In the last race, businessman Frank Yamamoto and longtime council watcher Al Rutledge are facing off for the seat being left open by Councilman Steve Bernheim, who is not running for re-election.
Yamamoto, 65, is making his first try at public office. He said he supports all three levies because “there are some signs we obviously need revenue. The biggest thing is to maintain city services.”
Yamamoto is chairman of the city’s Citizens Economic Development Commission, charged with making recommendations for finding new revenue sources in the future — “no more guesswork,” he said.
Rutledge, 70, has run for City Council several times.
He supports the levies for parks and streets but not the one raising money for the general fund.
He wants the city to hire an experienced economic development specialist — “somebody that has experience, who knows how to bring in businesses and more people into the city.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edmonds City Council, Position 4
Occupation: Retired from career as a banker, regulator for the U.S. Treasury and regulatory consultant
Priorities: Financial transparency and accountability; environmental sustainability; economic vitality
Occupation: Retired general contractor
Priorities: Economic development; sound financial management; keeping small town flavor in Edmonds.
Occupation: Aging Well LLC, care consultant for elders, the disabled, and their families; office in downtown Edmonds
Priorities: Getting expenses in line; open government; economic development.
Occupation: Owner, Wilson Strategic Communications, a public-relations firm
Priorities: Fully funding public safety; economic development; rethinking how to provide city services, such as fire services through a regional fire authority.
Occupation: Owner of Running In Motion, a downtown Edmonds store specializing in supplies for runners
Priorities: Economic development; putting residents first; leadership.
Occupation: Semi-retired from organizing amateur baseball leagues
Priorities: Public safety; financial responsibility; open government.
Occupation: Recently retired from 31 years working for the Chicago Title Insurance Co.
Priorities: Increase revenue base; implementing the long-range Strategic Plan, listing priorities of city residents; more unity on the council.
Occupation: Running a pension consulting business with husband in Edmonds; president of the board of commissioners at Olympic View Water District.
Priorities: Maintaining building height limits; acquiring and preserving park land; reducing city expenses.