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Arlington City Council candidates face off at forum
SMOKEY POINT — While the turnout might not have been huge, the Arlington City Council candidates' forum at the Stillaguamish Senior Center on Wednesday, Oct. 2, proved to be a lively affair nonetheless, as those who did attend did not hesitate to speak their minds to the candidates in attendance.
The afternoon event drew all the candidates in the City Council's contested races this fall, including Council Position 1 incumbent Steve Baker and challenger Jesica Stickles, Position 2 incumbent Chris Raezer and challenger Shery Christianson, and Position 7 candidates Jan Schuette and Michael Hopson.
When the candidates were invited to address one another, Raezer commended all of his fellow candidates on how civilly they'd conducted their campaigns. Schuette followed by asking her fellow candidates for their reactions to the information and proposals presented at the City Council's workshop meeting on Monday, Sept. 30, regarding the city's 2014 budget revenue options.
"I'm not a big fan of raising property taxes, especially with the state auditor saying that we haven't handled our finances well, but we may need to do it in the short run," Hopson said.
"The main concern I've heard from citizens, as I've been door-belling, is how much they feel nickel-and-dimed by their utility rates," said Stickles, who described herself as open to a number of possible solutions, so long as they constitute a long-term fix.
"I agree with Michael's concerns about raising taxes," Baker said. "I worry that businesses will be discouraged from coming into town, and we need retail for both our tax revenues and our job base."
While Baker characterized himself as encouraged by the results of the Transportation Benefit District, in terms of putting a proposed tax to the voters, Christianson still expressed reservations about raising taxes.
"What would it take for us to live within our budget?" Christianson asked. "Where else should we be looking to make cuts?"
"Do we want to give up our parks?" Schuette asked. "I totally support additional property tax revenues, and I will go door-to-door for that."
Raezer pointed out that the city has laid off 19 employees since 2010 and is restricted by relying so heavily upon sales tax revenues, since Washington state doesn't have an income tax.
"And the state auditor's finding was not about how we'd been spending our money, but about our reserve fund balance being too low," Raezer told Hopson.
When the floor was opened for questions from the audience, George Boulton, of Flowers By George on Olympic Avenue, urged elected officials and citizens alike to keep in mind that Arlington receives no sales tax revenues from the businesses in Lakewood, on the west side of Interstate 5. Raezer agreed with Boulton's suggestion that perhaps "Buy Local" should be more specific in adding "Arlington First," while Christianson and Hopson proposed divergent strategies for bolstering the local business climate.
"I remember, when we first moved here, that there were clothing stores on Olympic Avenue," Christianson said. "Now, Arlington Hardware is about the only place you can buy clothes downtown."
"Studies of businesses that are coming to this area have shown that Arlington is not getting retail, because that's going across the freeway," Hopson said. "Manufacturing is where we can get major growth, and if we encourage that part of the economy, retail will grow around it."