Issaquah city council candidates participated in a forum hosted by Kiwanis Club of Issaquah, the Issaquah branch of AAUW, and the Issaquah Cable TV Commission on Oct. 9. The forum was held at the city council chambers on West Sunset Way and was moderated by Debbie Berto, a retired newspaper publisher and member of Kiwanis, and Judy Rogers, a member of both Kiwanis and AAUW.
The evening began with the city council candidate forum. City council candidates included Lindsay Walsh, unopposed for Position 1, Michele Kemper and Zach Hall for Position 2, Tim Flood and Barbara de Michele for Position 3, and Victoria Hunt, unopposed for Position 6.
The purpose of the event was to give the candidates a chance to introduce themselves, speak on key city subjects and respond to questions posed by the community.
The focus of the forum was on the mayor’s proposed 2020 budget, traffic and affordable housing.
Candidates shared their thoughts regarding the mayor’s proposed 2020 budget which deals with a 5.2 million deficit in the general fund partly by deferring hiring, cutting back on parks programming and reducing the size of community grants. It also would add a new 6-percent sales tax to sewer and storm water bills and increase the sales tax on water to 6-percent.
Kemper said she does not support the mayor’s proposed 2020 budget plans, especially in regard to increasing sales taxes.
“It has to be a combo of expense cutting and revenue generation. If you just cut expenses, that is short term. You need sustainable revenue sources in order to keep growth coming,” she said.
She said she thinks the city needs to look at other avenues for revenue increases.
“Sales tax is one of the most volatile ways of raising money for a city. Our sales tax is approximately 32 percent of our revenue, property tax is 17 percent,” she said. “…We need to come up with a plan to live within our existing budget.”
Hall said there are things about the proposed budget he agrees with, and other things he does not.
Hall said if the sales taxes for water and sewer were to increase, he would want to see the water rate discount program expand to accommodate senior and low-income residents. He said the proposed budget may be relying too heavily on fee increases and cuts to community grants.
Candidate de Michele shared a similar opinion to Hall.
“A budget is reflective of the values of the city, and I’m going to look at this through the lens of how it will impact the people of the community,” she said.
She said she thinks the mayor has done a commendable job of balancing revenue increases with expense cuts, however, the cut to community fees and grants concerns her.
Candidates shared their thoughts on how to improve the growing traffic concerns in the city. Hall said limiting pass-through traffic is an important element in improving mobility around town.
“We can reprogram our traffic lights, we can make roadways more urban feeling with roundabouts and crosswalks, and make roadways more pedestrian and bike friendly,” he said.
Kemper agreed to synchronizing lights. She also suggested the city should work with Metro for better bus transportation, as well as partner with employers to implement employee buses and vans.
Candidates shared their thoughts on what the city can do to address the concerns of affordable housing.
De Michele suggested partnering with the faith-based community.
“They are interested in this topic, and have access to resources that can bring more affordable and workforce housing to the Issaquah area,” she said. “I would look at how we can partner with the business community, the faith-based community, city government to bring more affordable and workforce housing to area.”
Hall touched back on expanding the water rate discount for those with low and fixed incomes.
He said it is a creative and quick way to help those struggling to pay rent.
Kemper suggested the city work to create a simple fee which would expedite the development of town homes.
Go online to the city of Issaquah TV YouTube channel to view the entire candidate forum (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jfKnOFYgKA).