Q&A: Snoqualmie City Council Primary Candidates talk pools, property tax reliance and growth

The three women running for Snoqualmie City Council Position 2 – Elaine Armstrong, Katherine Ross and Anna Sotelo – submitted answers to three questions we asked. The answers below start in candidate alphabetical order for the first question and then rotate. They were asked to keep answers under 300 words. After the Q&A you will find a short bio submitted by each candidate.

On July 22nd and July 23rd, the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce will also host Primary Candidate Forums. The North Bend Council and Mayoral Candidates Forum happens Monday, July 22nd at the Mt. Si Senior Center, 411 Main Ave, at 7PM. The Snoqualmie Primary Forum happens Tuesday, July 23rd, at the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge at 7PM. Both events are free.

Primary ballots were mailed this week. They must be mailed in or dropped in a ballot box by Tuesday, August 6, 2019.

Question 1: Currently the City of Snoqualmie is highly dependent on property taxes, unlike nearby North Bend which has a larger retail sales tax base. What do you propose in the future to make Snoqualmie less reliant on property taxes?

Elaine Armstrong: I feel Snoqualmie needs to work leaner. Council should have the ability to ask good questions about spending, including audit questions. Other cities make their expenditures public, including payroll. This would reduce public records requests, saving staff time and money. 

In our city administration, so much of its operation is shrouded. We hear that we need to grow to reduce the tax pressure on our residents, but growth never pays for itself. Instead the residents assume an increasing burden of expanding water and sewer systems, over crowding in schools, and expanded personnel at City Hall. Despite the large growth we have experienced in the last few years, businesses are not doing well here. Shops are empty. Projects are incomplete. I would make our internal operations clear and available to the public. I would look hard together with the rest of Council and the Mayor to find ways to work smarter and leaner. 

Katherine Ross: As a councilmember, I recognize the importance of diversifying our tax base and being less reliant on homeowners’ property taxes. There are opportunities to increase revenues through tourism, retail, services and online shopping. 

With over 2-million visitors to Snoqualmie annually, one of the council’s top priorities is developing a tourism plan to increase city revenues. There are several projects to attract tourists including the Hampton Inn; the Salish spa, conference facility and hotel expansion; Sigillo Cellars expansion; and the future Riverwalk trail. A city-wide tourism plan will identify ways to welcome tourists to our remarkable city, invite them to stay overnight and spend their money which will support our community. 

Snoqualmie also needs to capture more resident spending dollars. Most of our stores are service oriented and not retail, so our residents drive to other cities to shop or purchase items online. While the new Safeway and Bartells improved this, we can do more such as shop local programs, fill vacant spaces and replace lost retail revenue with tourism oriented economic development. Snoqualmie receives destination-based sales tax revenues from online purchases, and projections show this revenue is increasing. 

Business & Occupation (B&O) tax is another increasing revenue source. I will focus on collecting B&O taxes locally and from companies outside the area that provide goods and services to Snoqualmie that could potentially increase B&O tax revenues further. 

As a Councilmember and member of the Finance & Administration committee, I will ensure we develop and implement a city-wide tourism plan, increase B&O tax collections, and work with our city to attract more retail in order to decrease reliance on property taxes. I am dedicated
to guiding and strengthening Snoqualmie’s ongoing economic development in a way that is responsive to the community’s needs and preserves our heritage, culture and majestic beauty of Snoqualmie.

Anna Sotelo: We need to capitalize on tourism and economic development. Thirteen years ago when merchants and administration began discussing tourism and planning, I thought the plan would be implemented only to discover that we are no closer to understanding our tourists than we were 13 years ago.  Goal 1 of the City Council Goals and Objective: Provide an economic base that supports approved long-range city revenue goals. Objective 1 to meet this goal: Bolster and leverage tourism revenues, as well as all other nonresident revenue, by developing an attraction plan.

In 13 years our efforts toward this goal objective should be further along. However, we proceeded without a plan and suffered further repercussions. I am committed to a survey to understand our tourists, their interests, their dining preferences, etc. It is an easy and effective tool to understand tourists’ needs.  We should ask ourselves, “Why are there so many vacancies on Center Blvd? Why is there so much retail turnover?”

As a former business owner, I actively tried to work with the city to grow local business. Our retail needs are unique because we do not have the population to support as much as retail as other cities do. Other cities can pull from more cities within a five-minute drive. We can only depend on Snoqualmie, Fall City and North Bend populations and tourism. This creates a very restrictive business plan to allow a business to capture enough volume needed to be successful.

Original Snoqualmie area merchants understood this would be a unique retail opportunity and would require an owner-operated small business.  However, we also understood clearly what the vision for Snoqualmie was in the Comprehensive Plan. Unfortunately, deviations from the plan took a toll on Ridge Merchants. After two years of living through the changes, I am thrilled that this is now a priority and excited to offer my firsthand experiences to solve the crisis.

Question 2: Do you support expanding the Community Center and adding a pool with non-voter approved city funds? If not, how would you propose funding it? If you do not support the expansion, why?

Katherine Ross: With Snoqualmie having one of the youngest populations in the state, and the increase in population by 27% since the community center opened in 2011, the demand for the great programs in our community center, run by the YMCA, means that the center is currently operating over capacity. 

As a councilmember, I recognize the community center no longer meets the needs of our growing family-centric community and is in need of an expansion to effectively support our local families and children. Though the YMCA has added a portable building, the council objective is to draft and implement a more permanent expansion plan.

In June, a community townhall meeting was held to gather more information from residents about the proposed community center. Most of the feedback supported expanding the community center and adding a pool.  A recent survey performed by the YMCA indicated 77% of the membership surveyed favored adding a pool. 

The city council decided to conduct a random telephone survey of Snoqualmie residents to gather more citizen input about the community center expansion and adding a pool. If the survey shows public support, I will support a funding option where our Snoqualmie residents would not incur additional taxes.  

Anna Sotelo: I fully support expanding the Community Center and adding a pool, but only if the city can do it without increasing taxes.  In addition, I would also support that an updated traffic and environmental study also be conducted, as the addition of a pool will increase traffic on any near vulnerable roadways and intersections.

I would also challenge the city to manage any project, adhere to stated timelines, and to remain within budget.  Although the YMCA is a wonderful non-profit, the City doesn’t receive proceeds from YMCA memberships.  I have heard that the YMCA memberships are current near or at capacity.  Therefore, I believe we need to explore supporting existing and adding new options for our residents that will help boost our sales tax revenues. 

Elaine Armstrong: Spending $10 million without voter approval is inappropriate, especially when the source of that money is undefined. In addition, we should not be giving a private company, whose own finances are not public, a pool built with our money and a large swath of valuable land in the process. I would love to see a real community center with a pool adequate for everyone’s needs that belongs to our community, using that land.  But regardless, the voters should get a chance to vote on this huge expenditure once a clear accounting is made of how the money will be generated. Anything else feels like railroading the constituents, who deserve better treatment.

Question 3:  Two years ago, the council said no to an annexation of the Snoqualmie Hills West area located in its Urban Growth Area, saying the timing wasn’t right. Knowing this area is in the city’s comprehensive plan as a future annexation/expansion area, what type of development would you like to see and when?

Anna Sotelo: When we take on new development, we must ensure we have enough resources (such as water) and we must consider improving or building infrastructure to support increased population density.  I am committed to responsible growth.  That means I want to ensure that proper studies are completed, to include planned traffic studies, to ensure we can support this growth.  To this end, I believe that notices of projects should go above and beyond the legal minimum and that we should aspire to have enthusiastic buy-in from all community members. 

The proposed project for the retirement community would provide a great demographic for the city. Retirees will use off-peak traffic patterns, dine and shop locally, and are shown to support bond measures. I would also like to ensure that retirees are included in our decision-making and would support their addition to our city committees.  After all, with age comes valuable experience!

Elaine Armstrong: There is no need to rush into yet another development. We have the Mill Site, the Salish expansion and the Panorama developments in process now, each of which will have a huge impact on the health and happiness of people living in this city. What is the rush to tear up our beautiful land and cram more people, more traffic, and more schools into our community? Let’s proceed thoughtfully. Let’s make sure our infrastructure is set up prior to any expansion. Let’s put the residents’ daily experience first. 

Katherine Ross: I agree the timing was not right for the pre-annexation proposal back in 2017. There were several factors that impacted our decision including a plan was not in place to resolve the congestion at the SR18/I90 intersection.

Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is forecasting our four-county region, including King County, will grow by a total of 1.8 million people by the year 2050. Currently, there are up to 80,000 people moving to our region each year. This means all areas in the region will continue to grow, including Snoqualmie.  

Snoqualmie will most likely annex Snoqualmie Hills West into the city in the future. We have an opportunity to identify and guide what should be developed in that area. Affordable workforce and senior housing are potential ideas for the Urban Growth Area (UGA).  

Home affordability is a major issue throughout King County. One of our council goals is to preserve and facilitate additional affordable housing for the workforce and seniors.  Increasing affordable housing for Snoqualmie’s workforce will benefit the whole community by helping retain a good employee base for our schools, businesses, hospital, and our fire and police departments. Affordable housing will protect our local economy by attracting workforce and reducing traffic congestion since employees will be able to live and play in the community where they work.

Snoqualmie also needs a variety of senior living options such as a retirement community, assisted living facility, or a skilled nursing care facility. Having senior housing will keep families together and provide our older residents the opportunity to participate in our community.   

As a councilmember, I want to guide the comprehensive planning for the UGA rather than wait for King County or developers to tell us what should be developed.  Residents will have an opportunity to provide ideas regarding the UGA at future townhall meetings.   

Candidate Bios with websites linked:

Elaine Armstrong: I am passionate about our environment and interpersonal justice. I earned my B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and M.S. from Portland State University. I earned teacher certification in Biology and taught Advanced Placement Biology, Zoology and Microbiology. As a Special Education teacher, I worked with some of the most developmentally challenged youth. In 1991, ARC of Benton County named me Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Now retired, I work with citizens and Members of Congress to create the political will to create a sustainable and just economy and a climate policy that protects future generations. 

Katherine Ross I am running for re-election for Snoqualmie City Council Position 2.  It is my honor to serve you as Chair of the Public Safety Committee, as a member of the Finance & Administration Committee and as Council Liaison to the Snoqualmie YMCA Board and the regional Sound Cities Association Public Issues Committee.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve made a home in Snoqualmie with my husband and our twin daughters. As a passionate community volunteer for nearly two decades, I’ve devoted myself to supporting the needs of families and children in our Valley.  ​As a Councilmember, my mission is to preserve, protect, and enhance the Snoqualmie way of life for all of us by providing resources for families and children, by diversifying City revenue sources to avoid tax increases, and by addressing traffic congestion at the SR18/I90 interchange.  

My 20 years of business management experience, 20 years as a community volunteer, along with my MBA, and recognition as a Municipal Leader by the Association of Washington Cities has prepared me to be a thoughtful, experienced, and passionateleader. I am proud of the work I have done and hope I have earned your continued support. Please vote for me.

Anna Sotelo: My family and I have lived in Snoqualmie for over 14 years. I have enjoyed raising my kids in a safe city that still has a small-town feel, good schools and a great place to run a successful business.

I bring firsthand business experience from owning and operating Ana’s Family Style Mexican Restaurant successfully for 12 years. I know what it takes and what is needed to “Provide an economic base that supports approved long-range city revenue goals.” (Goal #1 City Council Objectives 2019-2020) I am excited to contribute my knowledge to strengthen our city’s economic development goals.

I enjoy volunteering for various local organizations and was a board member of The Tanner Jeans Memorial Foundation and Sno-Valley Wildcats Junior Football and Cheerleading Association.

City training and work sessions, I have attended:

  • 2018 Snoqualmie Citizens Academy
  • 2018 City of Snoqualmie Ethics Training
  • 2018 City of Snoqualmie Quasi-Judicial training
  • Biennial Budget Planning Sessions, 2019 and 2020 Biennial Budgets
  • City of Snoqualmie Capital Improvement Plan
  • City of Snoqualmie Bond procedures and protocol

I am confident in my preparation for this position and ask humbly for your support.

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  • Without reservation, I strongly endorse Katherine Ross. She is passionate about families and children, is a pragmatic problem solver and has a strong record of listening to and serving the citizens of Snoqualmie. –Mayor Matt Larson

    1. I support a candidate that doesnt want to cram more people into this mountain area. Once the extra exhaust pipes and garbage are up here there is is no dialing that back. The trees will get chopped down, the roads will get clogged and litter and crime will increase.

  • Living Snoqualmie