As one of the county’s fastest growing communities — one that sits at a crossroads of major highways — Lake Stevens’ to-do list has in recent years had to address issues of growth, housing, commercial development, public safety, parks and other services and infrastructure funding.
The city east of Marysville and Everett and north of Snohomish now tops more than 33,000 residents, when less than 20 years ago it was home to fewer than 6,500.
Those issues and others will be the concern of a new mayor, following the decision by current Mayor John Spencer to not seek reelection after nearly four years of service.
The open seat drew the candidacies of two current city council members: Kurt Hilt is completing his first term, winning election in 2015. Hilt’s run for mayor prevents him for running for reelection to the council. Brett Gailey is two years into a four-year term he won in 2017.
Each offers impressive resumes with management experience relevant to the position.
Hilt is a firefighter-paramedic with South Snohomish County Fire Authority and has past experience as a planning section chief with the National Disaster Medical System. In that capacity Hilt helped set up field hospitals in disaster areas, including responses to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. He also aided the response following the Oso landslide in March 2014.
Hilt has a master’s degree from the American Military University. He has served as the city’s representative on the county health district board.
Gailey is a police officer with 21 years of experience, currently serving with the Everett Police Department in roles that have included patrol, detective, and its SWAT and anti-crime teams. He also serves as a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Reserves as a military intelligence officer with two deployments to Iraq.
Gailey has a master’s degree in business administration from the American Military University. Gailey also has served on the city planning commission and on the community food bank’s board.
A product of the consensus building that is often required on city councils, both men are in agreement on most issues and are complimentary of the other’s work on the council.
Hilt sees a particular challenge for the city in improving transportation within and outside of the city, especially for Highways 9, 92, 204 and U.S. 2. The city has worked to lobby county, state and federal representatives regarding those needs, with particular attention to the U.S. 2 trestle, which was granted state funding for the options for replacing the aging structure between Lake Stevens and Everett. Hilt says the trestle must be the city’s first priority.
Gaily agrees with the challenge in drawing attention to those routes. One example, Gailey noted: The Puget Sound Regional Council had left Highway 9 — suffering from two-lane bottlenecks for long stretches — out of its Vision 2050 draft plan until he and others advised it of the oversight.
With only about 300 acres of buildable lots available in the city, its focus on housing will change from one of approving subdivisions to ways to accommodate higher density in some neighborhoods through zoning and code change to allow options such as accessory dwelling units, once known as mother-in-law apartments.
There are other opportunities; Gailey sees a possibility at the Community Transit park-and-ride for a residential development that would preserve or add to the parking available and further the regional goal of transit-oriented development.
Regarding the city budget, both have been supportive of the city’s efforts to readjust what it carries in its reserve fund, which over the years built to $30 million, in excess of what was needed. A problem a lot of cities would like to face, that fund is being spent down and has allowed the city to bolster staffing in its departments, Hilt said.
Gailey said he would like the city to look at a change in budgeting philosophy, a switch to “outcome budgeting” that sets specific priorities and then funds accordingly.
Both also want renewed attention on the opioid crisis. Lake Stevens is working to connect homeless people with services, but each candidate has called for more education and outreach regarding the opioid crisis. Gailey said it may be less visible in Lake Stevens, but his work with the Everett Police Department puts him in contact with those suffering from addiction who have Lake Stevens addresses.
Hilt’s participation with the health district has shown him that the incidence of overdoses are happening at a rate similar to that of the general county; rather than on the street, the overdoses are occurring within the city’s residences, he said.
Obverving those and other areas of agreement, a choice between the two candidates comes down to the issue of whose leadership skills would bring the best results for Lake Stevens.
Gailey’s military training and experience would serve him in leading teams on various issues. “I’m not the smartest guy in the room,” he said. “But I can find the smartest guys in the room.”
Hilt, however, expressed a greater emphasis on collaboration, setting goals and encouraging creativity and drawing on the professional experience of the city’s staff and volunteers as well as “the wisdom of the community.”
Either candidate would serve the city well over the next four years, but Hilt’s demeanor, his emphasis on collaboration and a focus on keeping Lake Stevens “regionally relevant” in the eyes of state and federal lawmakers would serve him as a more-than-able successor to Mayor Spencer.