Taxes, chip seal top Mukilteo mayoral debate focus
Issues on chip seal, taxes and a full-time mayor rose to the top when Mayor Joe Marine and City Councilmember Jennifer Gregerson faced off in a Mayoral Debate last week at Rosehill Community Center.
About 200 voters attended the debate sponsored by the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce and The Beacon.
Marine and Gregerson are up for election Nov. 5. They were the top two-vote getters in the Aug. 6 primary.
Marine, 50, who was first elected to the office in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, is seeking a third term. An 18-year resident, he has served as mayor for nearly eight years.
Gregerson, 35, has served as a councilmember since 2004, including two years as council president. She is a lifetime Mukilteo resident.
Other issues covered on Oct. 3 included Japanese Gulch acquisition, commercial expansion at Paine Field and redevelopment of the waterfront, but it was over the issues of chip seal, tax increases and a full-time mayor that the candidates – who have similar political views – were most divided, if only sometimes by a split hair.
Read the candidates’ debate surrounding whether the city needs a full-time mayor in the Mayoral Q&A found online under the "News" tab.
The following are Marine and Gregerson’s views on taxes and chip seal:
Joe Marine: “Anybody can lead in good times. It takes a whole different leader to be able to lead us through one of the worst recessions we’ve had in our history. I’ve worked very closely with a lot of other cities not only in Snohomish County but around the state... and I can tell you that the hurt is out there amongst all of them.
“At the same time we’re feeling the pinch, the state continues to push unfunded mandates on the cities. Things we have to do funded... They’re also taking back taxes that we used to be able to count on. The liquor tax, when we went to privatization, the profits from that, the state decided we’re just going to keep all of that. That was a big hit to the city.
“We lost about 30 percent of our sales tax to our Real Estate Excise Tax, which is less than half of what it was and about 25 percent of what it was two years prior to that. What we didn’t want to do was layoffs. We are probably one of the most lean-run cities that you’ll find in this county. We’re not overrun with police, fire or public works.
“So we had choices to make. We were very careful with the decisions we made moving forward with the taxes. The 1 percent on property tax, which we’re allowed without going to a vote, back when I was on the council I saw regular 6 percent increases because there was no limit on them. We’re limited to 1 percent, so that’s all we’ve done.
“We have been taking advantage of some of the utility tax or franchise fee on garbage. This budget coming forward there are no new taxes, again, other than the standard 1 percent on property taxes.”
Jennifer Gregerson: “I’ve heard loud and clear from people across our community that it’s time to take a break on tax increases. I pledge that I will take a break. And let’s be clear about the utility, it’s a water and a sewer tax and there’s a garbage fee, it’s a franchise fee. I don’t think it matters what you call it, it’s still going to be an increase in that bill for you. I want to take a break from that strategy.
“So that means finding savings in our existing budget. One example of how I might have done things differently, I don’t think we should have spent city dollars on the float. I think we should get out of the float business now. We can donate the float to the... Lighthouse Festival Association or a community group so there are volunteers driving that float to parades and not your Public Works employees that you guys pay for.
“I don’t think we should be paying for both a full-time mayor and a city administrator, I think this may be the time to look at reducing our federal lobbyists contract, and there are other examples and other things I would look to.
“I would also look to our city staff, the department heads and everybody else in the departments. I think those employees can help find the waste that maybe I don’t realize is there. That will be my plan, is to look at that waste and overhead to give the residents a break on taxes.”
Marine’s rebuttal: “We also came down, we had over $8,000 a year in cuts, we were cutting at the same time, but what I find interesting is during that whole time the council, not only did [Gregerson] vote for those increases, [she] made the motion on most of them.
“So now that the economy is coming back to meet us, there’s not really much of a need for tax increases, and [she’s] ‘I’m not going to propose tax increases.’ [She’s] right, I’m not going to propose any tax increases.”
Gregerson’s rebuttal: “I haven’t hid from the fact that I’ve voted for some of your tax increases over the years, but I’ve been to thousands of doors in Mukilteo and I’ve talked to a lot of people and I’ve heard that this is a step that you want us to take. I think I’m in a position to have an open mind and a different perspective to find things to cut in the city budget.
“I’ll cut the cellphone plan for the mayor. I don’t think that you guys need to pay for my cellphone. I can use the mayor’s salary for that, and I might cut some of the mayor’s travel budget, as well. I wouldn’t spend money on things like a $20,000 video to promote the city. I’m ready to make some hard decisions and to look closely at the details.”
Joe Marine: “We are in our seventh year of doing chip seal as a way of maintaining our roads. We brought it to council. We have 60 miles of road. Chip seal maintains that road. It’s a fifth of the cost of doing a full grind and overlay. Frankly, we cannot cut your budget and not raise taxes and grind and overlay your way to fixed roads.
“As a matter of fact, a lot of cities have looked at us, and cities like Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace are using chip seal as a way of maintaining our roads... We had an issue in a neighborhood, the contractor had gotten bad oil, I want to say in 2008, but that was really the only one I can look back and say, ‘That didn’t turn out well.’
“It is a way of preserving our roads with the most efficient dollars and environmentally the right way to go because of the less product you’re using, but it’s the way we have continued to maintain the tax dollars and maintaining your roads over the long haul.
“Drive to Edmonds, drive to Lynnwood, drive to Seattle if you want, and their roads are in not very good shape at all. There’s some patched potholes, you see a lot of what they call crack sealing and it looks like snakes all over the road and alligator roads. We have very little of that in our community.
“With chip seal get more life out of our roads, and unless the people say, ‘Nope, we don’t want to do it,’ you’re going to be looking at possibly a $20 car tab tax that we would direct specifically to going to road maintenance. But that is not anything we’d want to bring to council, remember Tim Eyman lives here...”
Jennifer Gregerson: “I think it’s time to re-examine the chip seal and figure out where it works and where it doesn’t work. You can look to Harbour Heights Parkway, I live down that way right now, it gets a lot of truck traffic, and was chip sealed several years ago, and it’s really been compacted down, and it’s still a little bit noisy to drive on. It’s not a neighborhood street, there’s a lot of traffic on it... and that’s a good example of where it does work. But there are examples where it hasn’t work, and that’s what we should be reconsidering. We should re-examine it and make some choices about whether it’s the right thing for our neighborhoods.
“So, Washington Avenue, there’s a part of that that’s pretty steep, and the chip seal sort of dug out... maybe because people dig their tires in as they go up the hill. That’s a place where it doesn’t work.
“I’ve doorbelled a lot of neighborhoods and walked on a lot of neighborhood streets in this city, and I’m saying it’s not part of my vision for safe neighborhoods. If you’re a kid that’s throwing a ball in the middle of the street, it’s very rough, and I think our streets in a quiet neighborhood can be shared by cars, pedestrians and bikes...
I think there are other strategies that we can look at. The city of Kirkland uses a ‘microseal’ concept, and I’m talking with Councilmember [Steve] Schmalz to see if that’s something we should look at for the city.
“There’s also something that makes me question the wisdom of using chip seal. In every year but one we’ve only had one bidder on contracts for chip seal, so I wonder if there’s really enough competition in that or if we’re using the right strategy if we’re using something from one vendor.
“There’s neighborhoods where chip seal happened about a year ago, and it’s not really getting better. There are people in those neighborhoods who are still unhappy. Now, I won’t tell you that you’ll just get used to it, which is something that the mayor said in The Beacon. I’m going to listen to you and look and re-examine to figure out if this is right to do for our community.”
Marine’s rebuttal: “Actually, Dolittle Construction has done our chip seal since we began, and they are not the only bidder, they’re our lowest bidder, and that’s what we have to take. We have to take the lowest responsible bidder. They haven’t been the only ones.
“In terms of should we continue it, that’s going to be up to the council. Again, we brought it to them in the first place, I still stand behind it and think it’s the right thing to do fiscally and otherwise. Are there certain areas we shouldn’t do? Absolutely. We found out at the end of the first year not to do cul-de-sacs because the garbage trucks that turn around dig up the cul-de-sacs, so we don’t put it there... we don’t do bike lanes...
“If there are neighborhoods it doesn’t work in, that’s fine, but I can tell you it’s been very successful over the years. The double chip seal on 5th Street two years ago, it’s in great shape. If you remember what 5th Street looked like before we did it, it was a huge difference.
“But if the citizens decide they don’t want to do it, that’s fine, we’ll just have to find other ways to be able to do a grind and overlay or have much worse streets for a longer period of time before we cobble together the money to do it.”
Gregerson’s rebuttal: “I would encourage the audience and the mayor to look back at the council agendas, Dolittle has been the only vendor every single year except for 2009.
“I’ve heard that people aren’t satisfied with chip seal in their neighborhoods. 5th Street is more of an arterial street to me, so that’s not what I talk about when I talk about quiet neighborhood streets. Those are the places where I question whether it’s the right vision.
“And I’ll also add that I’m not afraid of Tim Eyman, and if the voters are interested in passing $20 car tabs to make sure we have better streets in Mukilteo, then I think that’s what we should take to Mukilteo. I’ve heard that people don’t like chip seal, and [Marine’s] right that there are other alternatives that cost more, but I think that we should give Mukilteo a chance to tell us that that’s something they want to invest in.”