City Council candidates vow no tax hike but endorse new spending anyway

All eight candidates for Sammamish City Council vowed last night that they would not raise taxes, but nonetheless most of them endorsed a host of new spending programs.

A few expressed fiscal caution about new programs and only one called out endorsement of new debt bonds for road infrastructures as “not free.”

This was perhaps the highlight of the only forum for all eight Council candidates for the Nov. 7 election. Eight people are running for four positions. Ballots are mailed to voters Oct. 18.

No new taxes

Sammamish’s operating budget is growing and revenue is still predominately reliant on property taxes until the Town Center is fully built out, a process that will take several years.

Council candidates John Robinson (Position 7), Chris Ross (5), Karen Moran (3) and Mark Baughman (1) each expressed concerns over the budget and offered ideas to control costs.

But when it came to questions whether they support bonds for roads, Ross, Moran, Robinson and Karen Howe (3), Rituja Indapure (5) and Pam Stuart (7), each did. Baughman (pronounced Boff-man) pushed back.

“A bond is not free,” he said. “We still have to pay for it somehow.” If the operating fund can’t support a bond, Baughman said issuing bonds may mean raising taxes. A bond issue for roads might be put to the voters, who, Indapure and others said, have reached the point of tax fatigue because of King County and Sound Transit tax votes and the looming impact of the state funding for schools, known as the McCleary court decision.

Indapure suggested pursuing grants as well, but in fact Sammamish already does this. She, and others, point to future revenues that should come from the completion of the Town Center and its commercial/office components.

Robinson, Ross and Baughman emerged as the most prolific advocates of cutting costs, in some cases, via staff cuts through attrition.

But Stuart pointed out that recent staff growth in part comes from converting consultants to staff positions and the increased need in city services.

Howe presented a conflicting view on taxes.

“I will not raise taxes,” she said. “However, I don’t like being a one trick pony,” a reference to the reliance on property taxes. “I’d like to find new revenue sources.” She named the potential for retail taxes and increasing the REET, or Real Estate Excise Taxes. “Is there an opportunity there, potentially?

The REET is paid when the home is sold. Council Member Don Gerend has been advocating since 1999 to double the REET, and was shot down every time he brought it up.

On her website, Howe lists seven potential new fees and taxes.

Howe also advocated growing partnerships and state and federal grants.

New Programs

Despite the no new taxes pledge, here are the programs the candidates supported in whole or in part:

  • A dedicated senior center, or a center for seniors and teens, or new senior programs;
  • Increasing road improvement expenditures;
  • Creating a human services program (see below);
  • Hiring an in-house city attorney (as a way of reducing the contract costs to the current, outside counsel);
  • An internal bus transportation system;
  • More bike lanes and walking paths;
  • Making the Emerald Necklace a reality;
  • Hiring a full-time arborist;
  • Adopting an urban forestry plan, with an annual tree planting program, one current Council member attending the forum later suggested this needs to include planting money trees to pay for all the other programs.

Sammamish currently has a human services coordinator to work with programs from the region, but the distinction in the proposal by the candidates—notably Inadpure—is that there are no services Sammamish provides to its own residents, such as teen drug abuse counseling.

The Emerald Necklace is a proposal to ring Sammamish with greenbelt, not only for habitat for also for walking and bike paths. This requires land acquisition and development costs.

Traffic

Traffic and transportation was identified by the City Council as the No. 1 priority and the candidates offered up similar solutions: autonomous vehicles, more bike lanes, including some off-street, more road pavement and improving traffic flow through technology.

Howe proposed that traffic lights be coordinated. Baughman pointed out Sammamish already does this, with the intelligent Transportation System, although flawed and still being adjusted.

A multi-modal system (vehicles, bicycles, bus, walking) was also supported by the candidates.

Funding must come based on priorities (Ross) and data-driven information (Stuart).

“We look at safety first, we fund it. If it’s compliant, we fund it,” said Ross. “I don’t like sales tax, it makes us non-competitive to our competitors. I don’t like B&O or utility taxes. It really comes down to a bond.

“We have to really, really look at our long-term plan,” he said. “[Traffic] concurrency supports new growth. We might front money and get a pay back. Infrastructure must be part of our long-term plan. How in the next 10 years do we pay for this? We’re not going to let Sammamish degrade, that’s for sure.”

Finance

Ross, who has made finance his signature issue, said financing must be based on long-term planning. He opposes any tax hike.

Robinson said governments tend to “ . . . overspend. Sammamish can do better. We need to take a close look at how we spend. Sammamish needs to be a good steward of tax dollars. Basic principles of accounting are you don’t overspend your revenue.”

Robinson said the staff headcount has grown 40 per cent, and should hold back through attrition to reduce staff by 10 per cent..

“I don’t think we need to be jumping to a new tax,” said Stuart, who is Robinson’s opponent. “We just got through talking about things to do. All of this requires staff, projects require city staff.

“Staff growth was converting consulting to employees. We spend less than half of Issaquah, even less than Redmond per capita. We want to keep things in balance. We don’t want to see a reduction in city level of services. Forty percent of the budget is for police and fire. We should not cut these.”

Baughman called for cutting the operating budget by $300,000 per year. This puts off the cross-over point (at which deficit spending occurs) to 2025, he said.

East Lake Sammamish Trail

Asked how the disputes between the County, City and property owners along the East Lake Sammamish Trail might be resolved, the consensus was a new round of mediation. As with this long-running, controversial issue, there were some strong responses from the candidates.

“Get King County to get back with the residents and get a solution,” said Moran.

“We can all agree there will be a trail,” said her opponent, Howe. “Mediation, just work it through.”

“It’s a mess but king County has dropped the ball,” said Ritchie.

“I would love the opportunity to sit down with the right people,” said Baughman, Ritchie’s opponent.

“I’m already trying to get people back to the table without having to go to court,” said Stuart.

“It’s outrageous what King County has been trying to do to some of the homeowners,” said Robinson, Stuart’s opponent. “Is there a way for the City to help defend these folks through mediation?”

“It’s unbelievable what the County is doing,” said Ross. “What about their moral right? Homeowners are giving up so much but County isn’t budging.”
“The best way would be to mediate,” said Indapure, Ross’ opponent. “I can’t imagine what the homeowners are going through.”

Me-too

During the long evening when the candidates repeated themselves and each other on traffic and trees, a few new ideas broke through:

  • Howe and Indapure both claimed the need for shared, local workspace for small businesses and home-based workers, which could also keep drivers off the main arterials during peak hours. Howe voiced the need for just simple conference rooms.
  • Changing driver behavior is an idea that Robinson brought up as a different approach to the traffic problem, citing the success of incentivizing drivers to leave their cars at home. Pam Stuart said that major employers were not likely to change their schedules to accommodate Sammamish drivers, however several candidates said throughout the evening, “We can’t build our way out  . . .” of the traffic problem indicating that new ideas are needed.

Problem-solving through technology was an area where the candidates were able to separate themselves a bit. Howe brought up her experience with “many, many startups,” and as a tech exec and CEO, and was the first to mention “ . . . planning now for autonomous vehicles.”

Indapure has a vision of Sammamish as a technology “hub,” an inspirational example of a city using technology to solve problems. Robinson raised the basic issue of faster, more reliable internet service. Stuart cited her technical background in mechanical engineering and years of experience working in cyber security and a need for data-driven decisions.

Baughman was more skeptical, pointing out, “Technology is great, but you can’t depend on it.”

By Scott Hamilton with contributions from Jen Baisch.

14 thoughts on “City Council candidates vow no tax hike but endorse new spending anyway”

  1. Money trees? We already have them. They’re called “taxpayers”.

    I honestly don’t mind paying taxes for something worthwhile that would improve quality of life across the board and ensure continuity of basic services, but most of this laundry list is downright laughable.

    Just to pick one example: before hiring in-house counsel, try putting up a COMPETITIVE bid. The current firm was hired on a no-bid contract, which is simply despicable. Then instead of fixing the problem, we get a diversion with no actual assessment of the optimal fiscal choice.

    No surprises here, though. Another sad election where any vote is a wasted vote.

  2. How to the candidates feel about the 1 Billion Dollars of Sammamish Tax Payer Money going to Sound Transit? Do they Support the following petition

    Whether you or the candidates support light rail or not Sammamish needs something in return for an absurd amount of money.

  3. The forum won’t let me embed the petition but if you click on my name it will take you to it. The petition is to make sure parking and easy access is available to Sammamish Residents at the new light rail station in Redmond only 1.2 miles away from our Northern Border.

  4. Where does that 1 Billion Dollars number come from? I ran the calculator with fairly generous numbers and still only get around 200 Million (still a large number) over 15 years. What am I missing?

    1. The 1 Billion Dollar Number was figured by Sammamish City Council and Provided by Council Member Valderrama at the Sept 5 City Council Meeting at the 18 minute 25 second mark on the attached Sammamishh TV 21 recording of the meeting Youtube link If It doesn’t show up in my reply try clicking on my name and I will emed the link to the meeting there.

      1. I don’t believe something just because Ramiro said it. Have you tried any of the cost calculators available online? The calculations for median impact on individuals are all pretty well known at this point… and when you multiply it out by the number of Taxpayers in Sammamish, you don’t get anywhere near 1 Billion Dollars. But hey, politicians never exaggerate, right?

      2. I gave a presentation as part of public comment section at the beginning of the sept 5th meeting. The number I used in my presentation was 500 Million but this was a conservative number based off my calculations and Issaquah reporter findings based off old property values from 2015. As we all know property values and growth has skyrocketed since then so perhaps that is the discrepancy between my original number and City Council’s updated number. Either way it’s a ton of money and the city should keep track of what Sammamish residence are spending and make sure we get something in return. Also keep in mind that this includes all money going to Sound transit (i.e. Bus, ST2 and ST3) so whether the number is 500 million or 1 billion Sammamish deserves more than just a bus that runs every 30 minutes (Route 269) from Redmond through Sammamish and to Issaquah in return.

  5. Oh I agree that we should get our money’s worth (well technically I’m not “our” anymore), but inflating impact by over 100% is not something that should be done to demonstrate that. But where did the 500 Million number come from? Using what I see as current number for median homes and population, I couldn’t get more than about $250 Million, which is a large number, but one that is reasonably open for debate as to whether or not it is a good deal for Sammamish residents. 1 Billion clearly wouldn’t be, I think.

    1. Based off of 2015 data according to the City of Sammamish each household spends 1108 per year for Sound Transit. Multiply this by 30 years and 15,718 households in Sammamish and you get a total of $522 million which is a very conservative number based off of 2015 property values which have skyrocketed since then. Also keep in mind that Sammamish is growing rapidly This number could very well be 1 billion dollars as reported by city council or even higher. Once again it should be the City’s duty to track and continually update this number to make sure the level of service received is comensurate with the tax paid.

  6. what’s the source for the 1108 number? That’s the one I couldn’t get to in the calculator *(https://projects.seattletimes.com/2016/local/st3-calculator/). Granted, it’s just one calculator, so small changes in assumptions could be big multipliers. But even adding in what I think are high assumptions ($800K house and $250K income), you only get about $570 increase per household. I also don’t think you can do a linear multiplier for the 30 years because that would assume zero inflation. I agree that 522 million is a high number, but over 30 years I would probably still have (as I did) vote for ST3.

    All that being said, this is making me miss being on the Planning Commission!

    Frank

    1. My original number of 522 million was based off of 546 annually for St3, 326 for st2 and 236 for bus service per breakdown provided by city to issaquah reporter in 2016. Your number doesn’t take into account bad service or St2 it’s only looking at St3.

  7. Well since you can’t exactly quantify the “cost” of “bad service” to the taxpayer, I’m not sure why it would be included in the estimate. But yes, I am just talking about the increase due to ST3 (the one we were voting on), not all transportation services put together (which would probably be a much higher number, but one with different merits, I think).

    1. Yep that was a typo for bus service but means the same thing either way. So as a supporter of ST3 would you Support Sammamish residents The ability to actually use use light rail in 2024 by having car access through Marymoor park to the new station and also adequate parking for Sammamish residence? Would this be too much to ask for the amount of money Sammamish residence are paying for Sound Transit?

  8. The devil is in the details… where would this new road run? The current road through Marymoor is nowhere near adequate for that traffic, given all the pedestrian and bike traffic that traverses it.

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