Candidates for the Lacey City Council, Thurston County Commission and Tumwater mayor sparred over budgets and growth during an election forum Thursday night. George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, moderated the event which was sponsored by the paper and League of Women Voters of Thurston County. It drew about 70 people.
LACEY CITY COUNCIL
All three incumbents backed away from a vote earlier this year to end the contract with the Lacey Fire District to provide firefighter and basic medical emergency response and start its own department.
The decision occurred after the city sued the district over the closure of the Hawks Prairie fire station. The fire station has reopened, but the city and district are scheduled to part ways at the end of next year.
Mayor Graeme Sackrison, seeking his fourth four-year term, noted there are regular meetings with district representatives to see if they can reach a compromise while planning for a separate fire service.
Deputy Mayor John Darby and Councilwoman Ann Burgman, who has served on the council since 1994, said they wanted to hear from a 30-member citizens’ advisory committee before they decide a course of action.
All three challengers oppose the city forming its own department. They have been endorsed and received campaign contributions from the Lacey firefighters’ union, which opposes such a move.
Lawson, a political newcomer active in his neighborhood, proposed that the two sides can settle their differences with continued discussions. Ryder, a car-wash owner, favored the city annexing into the fire district so voters within the city limits have direct control of how their tax dollars are spent. Pratt, who serves on the county Boundary Review Board, also favors annexation.
On growth, Pratt and Ryder said there needs to be greater emphasis on infill development. Pratt said more mixed-use development is needed in the city’s established areas, including the Woodland District. Ryder said there needs to be regional dialogue on strategies to move development within the city limits. Lawson advocated for policies to slow development.
Saying the level of development exceeded their expectations, the three incumbents defended the growth that has occurred on their watch.
Both Pete Kmet, the long-time mayor pro tem, and Neil McClan-ahan, a Tumwater city councilman and retired Thurston County undersheriff, said the city needs more commercial development, but differed on their strategies to achieve it. McClanahan favored tax breaks and other incentives to attract small businesses. Kmet said the city should work with the port to develop its town center, which has an approved master plan and zoning.
Kmet, who received the endorsement of Mayor Ralph Osgood, said there has been some movement on the brewery property, including the proposed Bellatore development. He said there need to be a community agreement on what the “collective vision” of the property needs to be. The former brewery property has sat idle since it was shut down in June 2003.
McClanahan said there needs to be more aggressive outreach to retailers and developments to generate interest in the property.
There was a difference of opinion on continuing to subsidize the golf course, which the city acquired in 1996.
McClanahan said he’d be open to divesting of the property if it means retaining firefighters and police officers in these tough budget times. Kmet said the city should do everything it can to hold on to the property.
Both candidates support removing the dam and creating at estuary where Capitol Lake now stands.
COUNTY COMMISSION BOARD
Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Pat Beehler differed on their authority to direct independently elected officials to spend the money they budget to those departments.
The question stemmed from the ongoing dispute between the county commissioners and Sheriff Dan Kimball over the commissioners’ directive to cut command staff in his office, which the sheriff has refused to do.
Beehler said commissioners should stay out of the officials’ spending decisions.
Valenzuela said commissioners not only have budget authority but also set overall policy in the county.
Beehler said his three budget priorities are maintaining good roads, funding public health and restoring the parks and recreation department, which was a casualty of budget cuts earlier this year. The county continues to operate some parks and programs in other departments.
Maintaining parks was a top Valenzuela’s budget priorities.
“During tough economic times, I consider libraries and parks to be some of the more important assets of our county,” she said.
The winner will complete the unexpired term of former commissioner Bob Macleod who resigned in December for medical reasons. Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Valenzuela in January after the remaining two commissioners were unable to agree on a process to select Macleod’s successor.
The winner will run again next year for a new four-year term.