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Elections 2013: City of Sequim
Do you feel operations are running smoothly in the city? If so or not, why?
Some things seem to be going smoothly in city government, and some don’t. The council seems to operate with a minimum of dramatics, which is a good thing, and something I will seek to continue. Council members should be able to speak their minds and represent what they have heard from their constituents in an atmosphere of respect and constructive engagement with their fellow members.
Healthy, vigorous, respectful debate on policy issues and spending taxpayer money entrusted to city government is what each citizen should expect. This builds citizens’ confidence in their government.
On the other hand, the city’s failure to be persuasive in seeking Opportunity Fund monies for infrastructure improvement; the city government’s mishandling of the sign code, the confusion that resulted over the appearance (at the very least) of disparate treatment of businesses in one part of the city versus other areas and the city’s far too public discussion of law and justice funding issues with the county, are good examples of things that could very easily have gone differently and achieved better outcomes.
Someone with a business and a military background, such as mine, approaches nuts-and-bolts issues like those with a pragmatic, problem-solving frame of mind. If elected, I’ll work with my fellow council members and the city staff to quietly and confidently solve problems.
Over the past four years the city council and city management has formulated a template to incorporate inevitable change and make Sequim a small city that we can be proud of. Our residents deserve much of the credit; our role included encouraging citizen involvement and volunteering. A prime example is our centennial celebration which is nearing completion. Another example is our ongoing priority to have policies in place that provide cohesive and appropriate direction for the management of the city, especially the various funds that operate the city. Proof of our success in this area is the recent AA bond rating the city received — an extraordinary achievement for a remote, non-metropolitan area city of our size.
The key to the smooth running of our city is that we LISTEN and we aim to serve ALL the residents, not just the special interests. If a resident has a problem, we actually try to resolve it, not just pay lip service. If he still fails to get satisfaction, he can contact me or another city councilor. A good example is our sign ordinance.
Because of a court decision Sequim (and many other cities) had to rewrite its sign ordinance. We strove to reduce sign clutter without violating the First Amendment and unduly harming our merchants. After many hours of consultation with our business community we enacted our first version. There were still some rough edges so after further consultation changes were made. There is still some residual grumbling, but most of the remaining issues are between the merchant and his landlord with little city involvement.
My goal has been and will continue to be to preserve our friendly, small-town atmosphere. Rapid growth, with its traffic congestion, increased crime and loss of rural ambiance is to be avoided. Above all, growth should not be at taxpayer expense.
How can the city help local businesses?
I believe the city government can help local businesses start and thrive by carefully calibrating the level and variety of city fees and when they are paid, to the financial hurdles any new business faces: cash flow is critical to the future viability of any new business, which must meet payroll and startup capital financing costs.
The city government has seemed to turn a deaf ear to such businesses from time to time. Cities are where commerce is supposed to thrive in our state and Sequim is no exception.
Reducing financial and regulatory barriers to people wanting to start or grow a business is what has been proven over time to work best. Customers then find an array of goods and services to choose from and competition in the American system of free enterprise is always a good thing for citizens.
Businesses succeed or fail because of many factors. Success or failure is primarily driven by the proposed new business plan and capitalization or lack thereof. Rent escalation by the landlord can drive a formerly successful business into having to close or relocate. While there is little the city can do to in these areas, there are several things we can do to help existing and new businesses and we will continue to do so. They include:
1. While many cities have a commercial B & O tax on business receipts, Sequim has none and has no plans to implement one. Except for rents over which we have no control, we are determined to maintain the lowest cost environment the city can achieve. The only money merchants need to pay is modest sums for licenses and permits.
2. Our Department of Community Development (DCD) continues to streamline the process to make it as easy as possible for new businesses to be created and for existing businesses to expand. The department proactively works with businesses to help them overcome any obstacles they encounter. At the same time we must avoid giving a business an unfair advantage over its competitors.
3. The city council and government maintain a close relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, but there is room for improvement in this area. I plan to propose a joint committee involving the Chamber, DCD and the city council to facilitate three-way communication and ensure that problems are addressed.
4. DCD will continue to work with prospective new businesses to find suitable vacancies. While the commercial landlords deplore medium to high vacancy rates because it cuts into their income, the flip side is that the higher vacancy rates are a great benefit to businesses since it gives them a greater choice of locations and exerts a downward pressure on rents.
What are the biggest issues the city is going to face the next six months?
Seems to me that the big issues facing the city are ones we’ve seen in the news lately: finding a way to fit the efficient administration of justice into the available level of resources, in cooperation with other cities and Clallam County government; and finalizing the plans and interlocal agreements for treating wastewater generated from the Carlsborg area by the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The remaining big issue is to bring the new City Hall and police station into being in a timely and cost-sensitive way. Getting that project launched successfully and anticipating all the problems that will need to be solved in advanced so that it comes in on time and under budget will be a big thing.
After Jan. 1, the new city council also will need to pause and take stock of city strategy, so that lessons from the election can be factored in to the city’s forward planning.
1. Marijuana dispensary. The Liquor Control Board has allocated one marijuana store to Sequim and five more elsewhere in Clallam County. The city council must decide whether to permit a store in Sequim and what regulations (if any) should be imposed. There are financial, legal and policy issues involved. Currently, tax revenue from the store goes to the state while policing costs must be borne by the city. This creates little incentive to approve the store.
2. Non-prosecution of felonies. Police Chief Dickinson, the city attorney, myself and many others have been extremely concerned for some time about the explosion of burglary and theft crimes in the city and the county. There are only a small number of perpetrators, but when this group repeatedly commits crimes it doesn’t take long before we have a serious public safety issue.
The city of Sequim can’t prosecute felonies. The County Prosecutor is unable or unwilling to prosecute many of these crimes, as well as some other felonies. Despite painstaking investigations by the police and clearly sufficient evidence, she is declining to prosecute many of these cases, which often results in the perpetrators going free to commit more crimes. This state of affairs is absolutely unacceptable.
3. Utility rate structure. Just as we have a long range financial plan, our Public Works Department has prepared a comprehensive 6-year utility plan. In order to accomplish it the department projects a 4 percent utility rate increase during each of the next six years. I believe that some and perhaps all of this increase can be avoided, at least during the next couple of years. This plan assumes no rate restructuring, no additional sewer revenue from the Carlsborg sewer project and installation of additional water and sewer lines for future growth partially paid for by current rate payers. The first two items could reduce the need for a rate increase except possibly for an inflation adjustment. The last one I oppose on principle; future growth should be paid entirely by future growth, not by existing rate payers.
4. New transportation revenue sources. The biggest problem facing Sequim (and most Washington cities) is the deteriorating condition of its roads and other transportation needs. Counties receive money for their road departments from the dedicated road property tax and state highways receive funding through WSDOT. In contrast cities receive little or no transportation money from the state.
What do you have to offer to the position that your opponent does not?
I have very recent public service experience in the military and currently am both working in the private sector and going to school to further my future employability. So I know first-hand the challenges and difficulties that younger citizens of Sequim face as they seek to build their lives and their families. That voice is missing right now on the city council.
But most importantly, I bring a serious, sober and mature outlook to the challenges facing city government and I always will seek constructive, respectful ways to carry out the functions of the city council and of city government in general. That is what all Sequim citizens should expect from those they elect. I will be a city council member the citizens can trust and respect for his constructive attitude.
My opponent is young so I obviously have the advantage in experience. I’ve made my share of mistakes in life, but I’ve learned from them. I have been on the city council for four years. During that time I’ve learned much and contributed to the city’s progress. My colleagues have voted for me to be the mayor pro tem. I look forward to being able to use what I have learned to represent the people of Sequim for four more years in what I expect will be my last term. Experience isn’t everything, but it is way ahead of whatever is in second place.
As a retired lawyer I can draft and critically review ordinances, and did so during my term.
I’ve spent my four-year term serving as an advocate for the ordinary citizen. The city council naturally focuses on various groups that gain the attention of the press and lobby the city council and government. But I never forget that the residents own the city, the taxpayers finance it and the voters make the decisions. I’m always ready to take your phone call or read your e-mail message to me. I ask you for your vote.
Council position No. 4
Dennis Smith, incumbent, unopposed
Council position No. 5
Genaveve Starr, incumbent, unopposed