With two other judges, Gov. Jay Inslee (foregrond, left) listens to Arlington mayor Barbara Tolbert as she, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin (left) and Bob Drewel practice their pitch for the America’s Best Communities competition at the Arlington Airport on April 7, 2016 in Arlingtoton. Arlington and Darrington were named as a finalist but did not finish in competition’s top three. (Andy Bronson / Herald file photo)

With two other judges, Gov. Jay Inslee (foregrond, left) listens to Arlington mayor Barbara Tolbert as she, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin (left) and Bob Drewel practice their pitch for the America’s Best Communities competition at the Arlington Airport on April 7, 2016 in Arlingtoton. Arlington and Darrington were named as a finalist but did not finish in competition’s top three. (Andy Bronson / Herald file photo)

Editorial: Tolbert key to Arlington’s financial turnaround

The two-term mayor’s leadership has brought reforms and allowed the city to benefit from growth.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Arlington, as with other cities in Snohomish County, has been the beneficiary of a strong regional economy, yet faces challenges familiar to those other cities in funding infrastructure improvements, balancing budgets while maintaining services and confronting opioid addiction and mental health needs in the community.

And like other cities, Arlington has seen steady growth, with an estimated population of about 19,800, up from about 18,000 in 2010.

Since 2012, Arlington has been led by Barb Tolbert, best known before her first run for mayor as director of the Arlington Airport and the executive director of the popular Arlington Fly-in aviation festival, which got its start in 1969.

Tolbert, running for a third four-year term, is challenged by Don Vanney Jr., a lifelong resident of Arlington, who recently retired as a contracts and capital projects manager for an aerospace manufacturer.

Tolbert won re-election in 2015 with 52.5 percent of the vote, defeating Craig Christianson, a retired firefighter and owner of a trucking company.

Vanney told the editorial board he’s seeking to lead Arlington because he wants to give back to his hometown community. He acknowledged he has no elected experience, but said such experience shouldn’t be seen as a requirement for the job, as the mayor has the expertise of city staff to draw upon when necessary. He said he would have considered running for council but supports the council’s current make-up.

Vanney said he wants to provide greater transparency and opportunity for participation for residents and would seek to increase spending on infrastructure and hiring for the public works staff, yet doesn’t believe additional revenue from city taxpayers would be required. Instead, he’d look for more grant funding.

He doesn’t express a lot of dissatisfaction with city decisions. For example, he supports the success that Arlington and other cities have seen with teaming social workers with police patrols in contacting those in homeless camps to encourage treatment.

But Vanney’s desire to serve has to compete with a record of success that Arlington has seen during Tolbert’s leadership as mayor.

Tolbert and the city council have turned around city finances in the years following the Great Recession.

During her first term, she led efforts to develop a 10-year financial plan and successfully campaigned to seek Arlington voters’ support to increase the property tax in 2014. That and other efforts have resulted in an improvement in the city’s credit rating from A-minus with a negative outlook to an A-plus with a positive outlook.

The city’s rainy day fund makes a similar case; in 2012 the reserve fund held only $77, maybe enough for three pairs of Wellingtons. As of the 2018 budget, the rainy day fund totaled nearly $4.8 million. At the same time the city has pared down its debt to about $34 million as of 2018, from $52.5 million in 2012.

The city no doubt was helped by a growing regional economy, but it had to have reforms in place to take advantage of that growth.

Even as it improved its finances, the mayor and council also worked to increase public safety staffing, including four additional police officers.

Tolbert also has strengthened ties with officials throughout the county, working most frequently with Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring. Their collaboration led to the establishment of what is now called the Cascade Industrial Center, a 4,000-acre development zone shared among the two cities that currently hosts some 8,000 workers but is being further developed for manufacturing and other businesses and as many as 25,000 jobs by 2040.

To support that development, Tolbert and others successfully lobbied the state Legislature for $39.3 million to widen and improve Highway 531 near the airport and the CIC. Work on that project is scheduled to begin in 2021.

Tolbert, an Arlington resident since the 1980s, sees the Cascade Industrial Center not only as a vital financial engine for the city and region, but one that will contribute to the area’s livability by offering residents jobs just minutes from their homes, saving them an I-5 commute.

Tolbert has further strengthened her leadership skills by completing training for an advance certificate in municipal leadership through the Association of Washington Cities.

Tolbert told the editorial board that she intends to continue her focus on the city’s financial stability and economic development, its public safety and maintaining the city’s small-town charm.

Arlington’s improved financial standing, its success in delivering services and improvements to residents and fostering economic development serve as its own endorsement for Tolbert’s reelection, one that The Herald seconds.

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