Snoqualmie Council Candidates Fletcher, Mayhew talk property taxes, pools and improving retail climate

Fuzzy Fletcher is challenging James Mayhew for Snoqualmie City Council Position #4 in the November 5th General Election. We posed three questions to the candidates and below you will find their answers. We thank them both for participating.

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.]

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? 

Fuzzy Fletcher: Since I don’t believe that growth pays for itself completely, I think the only choices we have currently are to discuss cutting spending across the budget, making sure our current budget is completely readable and understandable by all (Transparency), validate that current fees and taxes are being collected in a timely and complete manner and to expedite the tourism plan. The tourism plan has been idling for a few years and I feel Council needs to spend more time finalizing it, sooner than later.  As a representative of the citizens of Snoqualmie I will welcome all ideas. We have many very intelligent citizens living in Snoqualmie and I am betting we have economists and other financial people with ideas that are worth including into our discussions and as a collective body implement the ideas that are right for Snoqualmie.

James Mayhew: Over 70% of the city’s budget goes for staff salaries and benefits that are increasing at between 3% and 3.5% annually, the same rate as the rest of the economy. Unless we cut staff and service levels at our police, fire, parks, or other departments, those compensation increases must come from our taxes. Well over 40% of our taxes currently come from property taxes.

Some cities have solved this by adding significant large-retail shopping (generating sales and business taxes), such as Covington or Issaquah where they have driven property taxes to around 25%. However, this results in a very different city character that I do not believe Snoqualmie residents want.

I want us to significantly invest in attracting more tourists so that our retail business are more profitable and generate more sales and business taxes. Snoqualmie Falls is the second-most visited natural attraction in the state, but we don’t capture much retail spending from those visitors. And I would like to attract resident spending that is currently outside of the city by increasing the types of businesses that we currently don’t have but that fit our community character and historic charm.

I do not agree with those calling for Snoqualmie to stop change and ignore our funding challenges, while they simultaneously demand lower taxes. This can only lead to fewer and fewer city services and a deteriorating infrastructure, as we had a couple of decades ago

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] 

James Mayhew: An expanded community center with a pool has been a dream for the majority of Snoqualmie residents for well over a decade. Residents voted for it in 2006 (52%) and again in 2008 (55%), and in 2019 polling over 70% favor it. But construction funding was difficult to find a decade ago, and ultimately only the smaller ≈13,000 sf Center was built.

Since 2006 the City has almost doubled in size, and during that time the City set aside non-recurring revenues, such as construction sales taxes, and established dedicated recurring funding for facilities capital projects. Using $10 million from those sources along with state and county grants and help from the school district and YMCA allows the expansion to finally happen now and without increasing taxes.

Si View will not partner on a facility located on Snoqualmie Ridge, and has proposed a facility costing somewhere between $43 million and $49 million in North Bend, or possibly near Snoqualmie Middle School at an even higher price. They are asking Snoqualmie taxpayers for $19 million of that, at a rate per Snoqualmie home that would be about double the rate charged to Si View homes. It would require a significant tax increase in both Snoqualmie and the Si View taxing district. While the proposed Si View facility is beautiful and would permit water polo and diving, which the Snoqualmie pool would not, I believe the cost is too high for our community.

Fuzzy Fletcher: I support the idea, but I will not support any project of this magnitude without an up or down vote of the taxpayers. There are too many unanswered questions as of right now. For instance, I have been told no  new taxes will be needed for the YMCA pool idea, where are the bond payments coming from? I have heard that the bond payments on the new city hall are almost done and the money would be rolled over to cover the bond for the pool. This is a detail that needs to be known before any action is taken. Traffic will need to be looked at as well. While there was a traffic plan done years ago, that looked at build out, there was no way to see a 3-6 lane pool and an enlarged community center, not to mention a 2 sheet ice skating rink a few blocks away, when that plan was completed.

I feel that the community may be served better by a larger aquatic center, as it would allow more diverse options for more age groups with less crowding, but we won’t have any idea of which project(s) to discuss until we have all the facts. We need to build what is to be built one time while allowing for future growth. This needs to go to a vote of the people. 

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

Fuzzy Fletcher: One aspect of the issue is the cost per square foot charged by the owner of the property, if the price is too high, few if any can afford the space. The city has almost no leverage to help in that case. The city can also look at tax incentives, of some sort, for a short period of time to allow a start-up business a chance to get their business up and running. The city can look at designated parking spaces for a business, to make sure that surrounding business doesn’t crowd out their neighboring business; this would work in parking lots not on street parking.  Another idea is to enlarge the local transit program (Snoqualmie Valley Transportation) to run a loop shuttle that would carry tourists and residents alike from one place to another on a regular loop, between different parts of the city, including weekends. Besides a tourism plan to encourage tourists to visit multiple business’s and attractions, in our great city we need to work with citizens to discover what business types would help keep the retail dollars in Snoqualmie and not to leave for other cities. One thing the city could do is lobby a business to come to Snoqualmie once the city understands types of business the citizens’ desire in town. For example, how about we lobby Trader Joes to come fill the IGA? 

James Mayhew: Brokers for those locations have received offers for replacement businesses that they did not accept. In one case a broker tried to bring a non-retail business into one of our anchor retail spaces because warehousing commands higher rents. They hoped for a zoning interpretation to allow this, which the city council did not approve. Our retail zoning was in place when the buildings were built. Enforcing it is key to keeping Snoqualmie’s character and charm. Most restaurants and other retail locations are having great success in Snoqualmie, and most retail locations are occupied. However, it is always unfortunate when a business does not succeed.

The City’s responsibilities, beyond reliable streets, sidewalks, utilities and other basics, include providing reliable and understandable policies, clear and enforced zoning requirements, and an environment in which businesses can succeed. As the city has grown some of this environment has evolved and we need to keep evaluating how we can attract shoppers to our retail centers, attract tourists to our local businesses, and keep the regulatory environment supportive while maintaining our community’s character and quality of life.

I would like to see the city attract more “shoulder season” tourism to help our retail businesses thrive year-round. It is also critical to attract more businesses providing what residents leave the city to obtain elsewhere, as long as they fit our community character. The more we can meet our resident’s needs in Snoqualmie, the more they will shop locally. Once residents leave town for one thing, they tend to spend their other retail dollars there rather than back in Snoqualmie.

Fuzzy Fletcher (left) and James Mayhew (right)

Comments

  1. North Bendite says

    I’m in NB so I don’t have a dog in this fight, but Mayhew’s answer about the IGA building leaves a lot to be desired. In fact I don’t think he answered the question, nothing specific was mentioned.
    We’d all love a Trader Joes, but they depend on insane volume and don’t want to be 500ft from a Safeway. Perhaps one of the new grocery players like Aldi? The Snoqualmie city council should be pursuing stores like this relentlessly.

  2. I am continually confused by this “Community Center” that the city leaders and many residents describe as being in Snoqualmie. I see a private corporation’s business (YMCA) that requires a paid membership to use. I have yet to see a “Community Center”. Adding a pool to this “Community Center” that is in fact a YMCA is nothing more than subsidizing the private corporation (YMCA) with our tax dollars. Quick test, will we need to be members of the YMCA to use the pool if it is built?

  3. Sharon Read says

    Why can’t we have a McDonalds in Snoqualmie!!! I”d like the city leaders to make it happen.

  4. So I hope this clears up anyone’s confusion. The YMCA is a non profit that simply operates and maintains the community center at no cost to the city. This way the city didn’t have to divert tax dollars away from other services or increase any taxes and only the users of the YMCA pay for the operation and maintenance. So if you don’t use the pool you will not be paying for it other than the initial construction of course which is paying paid for by existing funds(no new tax increases). I also contacted the YMCA about the pool guest policy and yes they allow guests and it typically costs around 10 bucks per child for non members. So would make sense to join if you plan to use the pool more than a few times a month or take lessons which are typically free if you are a member. My only concern actually is the size of the pool area as I envision it being very popular and I hope it will be large enough to keep it enjoyable while using it.

    • Kevin… get real. Where the heck did those existing funds come from? Us! And I for one will not support a poorly sized and planned facility at the YMCA. Council needs to try harder and get us a realistic alternate to consider.

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