Snoqualmie council candidates Armstrong, Ross discuss property tax reliance, pool funding, filling vacant storefronts

Elaine Armstrong is challenging Katherine Ross for Snoqualmie City Council Position #2 in the November 5th General Election. We posed three questions to the candidate. Below you will find their answers. We appreciate their willingness to participate.

King County Elections is scheduled to begin mailing out general election ballots on October 16th, which must be returned by November 5th to be counted. Voters can mail their completed ballots or drop them at the Ballot Drop Box in front of the Snoqualmie Library located at 7824 Center Blvd SE.

[Candidate answers are listed alphabetically and then rotate with each question.]

Do you support the City of Snoqualmie expanding the community center and building its own pool on that site with an estimated $10 million of city funds or do you support the city partnering with Si View to build a $43-$47 million regional aquatics facility at a potential cost of $19 million in city funding? [Note: Si View recently identified Snoqualmie at a school board meeting as a 50/50 potential partner for a regional facility] 

Elaine Armstrong: While I support a pool for the people of Snoqualmie, I’m not sure that either option is right for our community. Community pools are great for kids, swimming lessons, school teams, water sports competitions and fun family activities. It’s great exercise for all of us and is particularly good for anyone with injuries or medical issues.

The City says a new pool partnered with the YMCA will cost $10 million. But what size pool will this buy? To be truly useful for our community, we need one with at least 6 lanes and some estimates for that are as high as $19 million. In the City’s recently passed Non-Utilities Capital Improvement Plan, $10 million is allocated for the entire community center expansion
project which also includes tripling the size of the current YMCA, an expansion of the cardio center, parking, meeting rooms etc. It is unlikely that $10 million will cover all of that plus a six lane pool. It is entirely unclear exactly how much we, the citizens will end up paying for a pool that is sufficient to meet all the needs of our children, youth and adults. If we are doing it, let’s do it right!

I think a multi-agency effort, possibly including North Bend and King County in a regional proposal should be considered. It could easily be sited in Snoqualmie. Let’s explore all of our options with an open mind. Finally, spending this much money should only be done with strong public support and approval.

Katherine Ross: As a councilmember and council liaison to the YMCA Board, I have been working with community leaders and the YMCA for over a year, addressing over capacity issues at our community center and looking at different options to expand the facility and add a swimming pool. A recent survey of residents indicated over 70% support the expansion and pool, and 51% of residents oppose spending local tax dollars to partner with Si View on an aquatics center outside city limits.

Si View presented their proposal at a recent SVSD Board meeting, naming Snoqualmie as a partner and stating they would like the City to provide $19 million in city funding for an aquatics center. This amount was a surprise to the City of Snoqualmie, I have attended several meetings with Si View Commissioners over the past several months and the most recent amount they quoted to Snoqualmie ranged from $0 to $5 million of city funding.

In order to partner with Si View on an aquatics facility, Snoqualmie would need to pass a capital bond. The City would still need to expand our community center which would be around $4 million, so the total cost would be closer to a $23 million capital bond. There are other factors that have not been defined such as location, maintenance and operating costs,
and future capital expenses, so costs may be more than $23 million.

Overall, I support expanding the Snoqualmie community center, adding a swimming pool and funding the project without raising taxes.

What specific initiatives or policies would you propose to improve the retail climate in Snoqualmie so that buildings like the former IGA would not sit empty for months on end? What, if anything, can the city do to help private business recruit new tenants for vacant spaces?

Katherine Ross: A good economic climate will help fill vacant spaces due to demand for retail and services. We have already seen some positive results, with increases in lodging and restaurant sales due to the Hampton Inn’s many visitors that are dining at our local restaurants. Sno-King, developer of the future hockey rinks, anticipates 650 kids will participate in their programs on a weekly basis, estimating up to 35,000 people annually will visit the rinks. The Salish conference center will bring visitors to our area. All of these new activities will drive more retail and restaurant sales.

Snoqualmie has many fantastic city events such as movie nights, concerts in the park and the tree-lighting ceremony. Coordinating with local businesses during these events has increased local sales revenues for both Historic Downtown and Snoqualmie Ridge.

Each year our Economic Development Commission surveys local businesses including retail, services and commercial businesses to determine how easy is it to do business in Snoqualmie. As a Council, we have reviewed the results and are working to improve the business climate including reducing traffic congestion, adding affordable workforce housing, adding additional signage, and reducing employee shortages through job fairs.

Overall, ensuring Snoqualmie has a good economic climate, continue working to improve the business climate and coordinating with our local businesses during events will help fill vacant spaces in our retail area. I am dedicated to guiding and strengthening Snoqualmie’s ongoing economic development in ways that will benefit our community.

Elaine Armstrong: If a building, like the former IGA site, goes unfilled, the City should engage in a dialogue with the owner to see what each party can do to quickly ensure there is a new renter. Some landlords choose to keep a property empty for months or years hoping for a deep-pocketed tenant. Creative market-driven solutions can be suggested and supported with City led marketing. For instance, Pop-Up retailers renting for a few months, or Space in the Raw (using the building for corporate meetings or parties), or different leasing agreements can keep the space occupied without a long-term commitment.

It is critical to the health of our community to have our businesses and storefronts filled and thriving by protecting and supporting the commerce we have now. Strategies should be explored to protect locally owned businesses against unfair competition from large corporate franchises, for example.

Making sure the city doesn’t spend so much money that it has to raise taxes should always be the goal. Some other cities have misled the public into supporting local improvement taxing districts while those tax hikes actually drove local businesses out of business.

Government needs to stick to the basics: clean, well maintained streets, great parks, and a safe environment. This creates a good business climate. The City can be efficient and fair in reviewing remodeling permits and should be careful to support all our local businesses equally. The City should not be in the business of determining winners and losers. Everyone should win.

Currently the City of Snoqualmie’s operating budget is heavily dependent on residential property taxes. What specific initiatives would you propose that might ease that dependence? 

Elaine Armstrong: The best response to this dilemma is for the City to work hard to live within its means. The City must find ways to reduce its budget from Cadillac services. It is important to treat the money of our residents with respect and make sure the City is giving excellent value. In addition, residents deserve absolute clarity about where the money is going and be given a choice about spending. If people are paying utility bills (water and sewer) that money should go for utility projects only.

If a city grows too fast, taxpayers will be hit with rising costs for schools,
transportation, and other services. According to a 2000 study by the Columbia Public Interest Policy Institute for Washington State, growth tends to increase tax rates, contrary to conventional wisdom. Areas with the faster development have the greatest tax increases. This means the City needs to moderate its growth and be very strategic about how it uses its capacity to absorb growth.

Finally, are developers paying their fair share to expand our infrastructure? I know they pay a lot but we are, too! Let’s make sure growth is not drowning the people of Snoqualmie as we struggle to have enough roads, utility services and schools.

Rigorous oversight aimed to create excellent value with every dollar by Council, along with the City’s ability to obtain grants and public moneys from outside Snoqualmie could easily allow us to live within our means and continue the great city we now have.

Katherine Ross: As a councilmember, I recognize the importance of diversifying our tax base and being less reliant on homeowners’ property taxes. Property taxes make up over 40% and sales taxes make up less than 20% of city revenues. There are opportunities to increase revenues through
tourism, retail, services and online shopping.

With over 2-million visitors to Snoqualmie annually, 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. On average, overnight visitors spend five times more than daytime visitors.

Snoqualmie also needs to capture more of our residents’ spending dollars. Residents do most of their shopping in other cities. We have made progress towards increasing sales tax revenues with the addition of Safeway, Bartells, and the Hampton Inn. Future projects that will provide
additional sales tax revenues include expansion of the Salish Spa and Conference Center, Sigillo Cellars and the new Sno-King hockey rinks. Shop local programs such as Keep It Local Snoqualmie group and Sno-Valley Chamber’s “Shop the Valley First” programs will also help increase local sales revenues.

Snoqualmie also receives destination-based sales tax revenues from online purchases, and projections show this revenue is increasing. B&O taxes is another source of income, focusing on collection from companies located out of the area that provide goods and services to Snoqualmie will increase B&O tax revenues.

As a Councilmember and Finance & Administration committee member, I will ensure we develop and implement a city-wide tourism plan, increase B&O tax collections outside of the area, and work with established local shop local programs to attract more retail sales in order to decrease reliance on property taxes.

Elaine Armstrong (left) and Katherine Ross (right)

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  • Elaine says ” While I support a pool for the people of Snoqualmie…”, however she shoots down every option put forth by our local government and claims to want ” to look at other options”, however she has no actual other option to offer. Elaine is most definitely the “we will not get a pool” candidate. We have small children and want to get a pool into the community they can use before they grow up and leave for college. Of these 2 candidates, only Katherine Ross will be able to make this happen.

  • The YMCA pool would be too small… my family would never use it. The region needs a good aquatic facility, and we will need to partner across the region to make that happen.

  • Living Snoqualmie