Snoqualmie Council Candidates Donaldson, Sundwall share views on pool expansion, retail vitality, property tax reliance

William Donaldson is challenging Sean Sundwall for Snoqualmie City Council Position #6 in the November 5th General Election. The candidates provided answers to three questions we posed. Thank you to both for participating.

King County Elections is scheduled to begin mailing out general election ballots this week. Ballots must be returned by November 5th to be counted. Voters can mail 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.]

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?

William Donaldson: We need to be honest with ourselves about the retail economy in Snoqualmie. First, we must recognize that unlike Issaquah, Snoqualmie Ridge’s commercial zones are not “on the way” to any frequently traveled destinations except, of course, our local neighborhoods. This means that we receive very limited consumer traffic from throughout the region to our local storefronts. While the storefronts are very conveniently situated for those that live in Snoqualmie, there have been few reasons for outside consumers to buy there. The commercial zoning in Historic Snoqualmie is quite different because we receive extraordinary tourism to Snoqualmie Falls and much of the valley passes through via Highway 202.

Second, we need to recognize that retail transactions have fundamentally transformed in the past decade, and there are no indications that they’ll revert back to a predominantly physical storefront model. Running a digital store is much more cost effective than a traditional one. In this regard, Snoqualmie’s retail businesses are not unique in their struggle. For many families, the costs mitigated by shopping on Amazon are significant, and this informs their buying habits. There’s no concrete solution, but we can begin by understanding the problem.

We have to let the market determine the rental fees of our commercial buildings. And the City can do a lot more to inform our existing and prospective business owners of modern, successful business practices and help them to understand what our community needs at any given time. We need to create incentives for our locals to buy goods and services locally to keep money circulating in our economy – even if it’s as simple as educating the population about the importance of doing so.

Sean Sundwall: It’s important for residents to understand that the City has very little control over the success or failure of an individual business. As a Snoqualmie business owner myself, I know that hard work and a little luck are what make the most difference. That said, the best thing the city can do is make Snoqualmie a more tourist-friendly destination. Tourist dollars are the best kind. Tourists come, spend and leave. The completion of the Hampton, the expansion of the Salish and the completion of the hockey arena are all projects that will help grow tourism and help well-run
local businesses succeed. Projects like the Riverwalk will increase access from Snoqualmie Falls to downtown merchants who will spend their money in our town. The ongoing revitalization of downtown will continue to create an inviting environment for tourists and residents alike.

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? 

Sean Sundwall: About 46% of our operating budget comes from property taxes. While this is an improvement over prior years, it is still high. Decreasing this dependency comes through non-residential growth. Newer businesses like the Hampton, Safeway and the other businesses in the Safeway complex have contributed to a lower dependency. That trend will continue as businesses like the new hockey arena, the Salish expansion and the new Sigillo winery come online. Ultimately, diversification is tied to growth. Any growth proposal that comes before Council will have to further decrease our dependency on property taxes or I will vote against it.

William Donaldson: It’s easy to say, “The answer is to bolster our local economy through business.” But many of the prerequisites necessary for that to take place are simply outside of our control. I believe our homeowners and renters are paying too much in living expenses right now. If we are unable to responsibly lower those costs, we can at least slow the pace at which they are inflating to give our families opportunity to catch up and get ahead. We are able to sustain the city we have with today’s revenues. But to improve our city, and grow in healthy ways, we need to capture the economic energy that visits Snoqualmie each year in more effective ways.

Before we make risky investments to expand our commercial zones elsewhere, let’s first maximize the effectiveness of the zones we have. In addition to the efforts already being made to improve tourism from Snoqualmie Falls, we can rehabilitate Railroad Avenue further and creatively maximize space for retail that encourages more shopping and visitation without any further deforestation.

We can increase the amount of grant funding that we receive by pursuing more inter-municipal cooperation on infrastructure projects. Let’s bring the valley together more on projects in all ways possible so we get more return on our investments. After optimizing parking solutions for our heavily visited areas, the council should strongly consider instating parking fees that Snoqualmie tax-payers are exempt from as a method of capturing dollars from out of town.

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] 

William Donaldson: I am in favor of a valley-wide expenditure on an aquatics facility that our youth programs can use competitively. Right now, for example, Mt. Si High’s Swim Team is commuting to/from the community pool located in Issaquah for their meets. Our city, at the present time, does not have the resources to build a facility of this nature alone. $19 million is too much for us to put toward a new pool, but I’m confident we can persuade Duvall, Carnation, North Bend, and Riverview School District to contribute as well, which drastically improves the potential for grant funding from King County and Washington State. We should solicit for a Federal block grant as well. The valley needs a large community pool and we can build it together. 

While I do support expanding the community center on Snoqualmie Ridge, unfortunately, the plan Mayor Larson has proposed does not include an adequate pool for our aquatics programming, and I have concerns about the maintenance costs for the 3-lane pool proposal that would mostly befall our community whilst it is managed by the YMCA. I’m in favor of expanding the community center for recreation purposes without compromising the City’s funds, and installing a spray park for our young families to enjoy during our warmest months. We should seriously consider negotiating with the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge to make their pool more available to the public between now and when we have a public pool on Snoqualmie Ridge.

Sean Sundwall: I am 100% supportive of the City’s proposed community center expansion and have been intimately involved in it for more than a year. Part of that involvement has been multiple meetings with Si View to see if we could partner. While the proposal presented by Si View is gorgeous it is WAY too much. Too much space and too much money. I do not support a “regional” facility unless we get regional dollars. Exactly zero regional dollars have been committed and much of the ~$45M King County has set aside for pools is already spoken for. Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond are working on a regional aquatics facility similar in size to what Si View is proposing and none of those significantly larger cities individually was willing to take on such an enormous tax burden for its citizens. There are 300,000 residents in those three communities to bear that burden compared to 40,000 in the Valley.

In the 14 years I have lived here, a majority of voters has approved a larger community center with aquatics three separate times. Each of those times would have required a tax increase.

A statistically valid survey recently showed 74% support the expansion. The school district did its own, larger survey where 80% wanted an aquatics facility. It is irrefutable the community needs and wants this.

The City of Snoqualmie proposal uses $10M of existing savings and existing tax revenue sources to build the facility (no new taxes) and Snoqualmie residents never pay maintenance and operations costs (M&O). This is an important distinction because M&O is the single largest expense for an aquatics facility. Under the City’s plan, the YMCA is solely responsible for the M&O of the building just as they are now. The Si View option would require M&O levies in perpetuity which is a tax paid by all including the ones who don’t use the facility.

Detractors point to the fact the a YMCA-run facility requires a membership fee. That is true. But that membership fee also provides a greatly expanded “dry space” fitness area that the Si View facility does not. The membership fee also allows you to use other YMCA facilities in the region. That membership fee is only paid by those who use the facility. And most importantly, the YMCA never turns anyone away who can’t afford to use the facility.

William Donaldson (left) and Sean Sundwall (right)_

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  • While it might not be reputable that the city wants a pool, it is definitely reputable that citizens would select a dinky YMCA pool over an appropriately sized regional alternative. The current council simply has not done the work.

  • Living Snoqualmie