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Kirkland Council candidates tackle budget, poverty and more during forum
Kirkland City Council candidates explained how they would combat poverty, straighten out the budget and update the Kirkland 2035 Comprehensive Plan during a candidate forum that drew about 40 people to Holy Spirit Lutheran Church on Oct. 14.
Four candidates faced off, while three unopposed incumbents also gave their views on a wide variety of issues during the event that the church hosted.
Ballots for the Nov. 5 election, which were mailed to voters on Oct. 16, include five Kirkland seats up for bid: Position 1 challengers Jay Arnold and Martin Morgan, Position 2 unopposed incumbent Shelley Kloba; Position 3 unopposed incumbent Penny Sweet; Position 5 unopposed incumbent Amy Walen; and Position 7 incumbent Deputy Mayor Doreen Marchione and challenger Bill Henkens.
During the forum, several candidates said they want to see an update in the neighborhood plans but also a fix in the process in which those plans are created during the Kirkland: 2035 Comprehensive Plan update that will take place throughout the next few years.
Arnold suggested engaging the neighborhood associations and a nonprofit to streamline a grassroots effort. Sweet said the neighborhoods are “clamoring” for an update that the city can more easily respond to and that neighborhood plans should be more representative, compact, “templated” and something that doesn’t take two years to develop.
Henkens said zoning needs to be addressed in the Comprehensive Plan because many are concerned about the increasing densities. And Morgan said he simply wants a better way to inform neighborhood citizens of when there will be a change by the Planning Department.
However, Walen stated she was concerned about how Kirkland would continue to pay for its services.
“There are some communities in our region that are paying for services purely out of property taxes,” Walen said. “I think it’s terribly important that regular people, working class people, people who are aging in our population can live in their hometown and that means we have to have a diverse tax base and we do have to have economic development.”
Nearly all the candidates agreed business development should continue to be directed to the Totem Lake business district to spur the needed economic development that will sustain Kirkland in the future.
“The central business area is moving to Totem Lake,” Henkens said. “Kirkland’s waterfront is already built.”
Because Kirkland has the two most serious areas of poverty on the Eastside of King County, which is measured by the number of families on food assistance, candidates said the city should consider community involvement and funding because education - the “main ingredient” to getting out of poverty - is out of the Council’s hands.
“I think Kirkland can look at expanding our Pea Patch programs,” said Marchione, who added she was the CEO of Hopelink for 15 years. “As we, as a Council, look at our human services, I think we can look at funding something like Nourishing Networks, which doesn’t meet our guidelines for funding but I think we can make an exception.”
Henkens explained his own efforts in helping the hungry by providing produce to Meals on Wheels and thinks there should be more information for small businesses to get involved at a community level, while Arnold said the $1.3 million toward human services will only increase at an incremental level so a type of community foundation to leverage energy could have the most impact on poverty.
Morgan admitted he doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to feeding people but that he’s helped his neighbors by allowing people to rent his houses in Kirkland and Yakima for what they can afford.
“When I see a person in need with a place to live, I’ll let them live there and help them out as much as I can,” he said.
During the lighting round of questions, which ranged from whether there should be more dog parks to if marijuana should be as easy to access as alcohol and tobacco, several candidates felt passionate about explaining their stance on the possibility of creating a “community police commission” that worked with residents to establish law enforcement priorities.
“I’ve heard traffic stops is something where [people] said, ‘Why are [police] doing that?’” Arnold said. “I’ve also heard other things like ‘why are they not looking at this over here?’ I think there’s some questions to look at on how we decide proactively, but I think that’s best done through the Council, the city manager and not a commission.”
Arnold’s opponent, Morgan, thinks otherwise because he said he works in the annexed area and has heard of residents’ concerns with police in those areas.
Attendees were invited to submit their own questions, one of which touched on whether Kirkland had a longterm budget problem.
Morgan explained that in two years the city manager has said Kirkland will have a $9.5 million shortfall and in the next biennium there would be an $11 million shortfall.
“All we can do though, at this time, is hopefully not tax anymore, but look at how they spend their money and why they spend their money the way they do.”
But Arnold shot back that there was only a problem if nothing changes. He said the city has found ways in the past to serve the growing community in incremental increases but that it should also keep health care under check.
Henkens echoed Arnold in that health care should be looked at as the Affordable Care Act might allow the city to negotiate with unions so that the city could get out of providing benefits to its employees.
Marchione and Walen, who both serve on the finance committee, were more confident in the budget and cited the city’s AAA credit rating for being fiscally conservative throughout the years.
“I disagree with Mr. Henkens, we do not have a budget problem,” Marchione said. “The city manager shows us every year the divergent line that we need to address because we are required to have a balanced budget, unlike the federal government, and we also have AAA credit rating, unlike the federal government, so we are in good shape. It doesn’t mean we can spend, spend, spend but we are in good shape financially.”
In the end, all candidates were able to agree on at least one idea, which was to create a day in honor of diversity to further bring the Kirkland community together.