The only Kent City Council race on the Aug. 4 primary ballot features perennial candidate Bailey Stober against newcomers Tina Budell and Hira Singh Bhullar.
They are vying to replace Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger, who decided not to run again. Rich Brandau withdrew for personal reasons but his name remains on the ballot because he pulled out after the King County Elections deadline to remove his name. The top two vote getters in the primary advance to the Nov. 3 general election.
Stober lost council races in 2013 against Ken Sharp and in 2011 against Ranniger. He lives on the East Hill and works as a communications and marketing consultant for several small businesses and a political client. He remains under investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), which is looking into a January 2014 complaint that Stober failed to file expense reports during his campaign against Sharp.
Bhullar is a member of Kent’s Sikh community and a software developer at Starbucks in Seattle. He lives on the East Hill and also teaches at the Punjabi School in South King County which instructs children in computer literacy, music education, language and religion.
Budell has lived in Kent for eight years and serves as president of the North Park Neighborhood Council. North Park is just east of the ShoWare Center. She works as a project manager for Amplify Solutions, a business consulting and technical staffing firm with a Kirkland office.
The council seats are four-year terms. The part-time positions pay $13,752 per year.
Candidate responses to a series of questions emailed to them by the Kent Reporter:
• Why did you decide to run for the City Council?
Bhullar: I’ve lived in Kent for eight years, my kids have gone to school and grown up here, and I’m proud to call the city home. I am running to ensure that the council reflects all of Kent and to empower every resident to participate. My priority as a council member will be to support programs and policies that build strong communities and create opportunities for every child, family and resident of our city.
Budell: I decided to run because I have been an advocate for the city in my volunteer work for the past eight years and I knew my business experience balancing complex project budgets would be an asset. I also am running because I am the only candidate who lives in the valley and we need a voice of all areas of Kent.
Stober: I decided to run again because I believe I have the experience, skill set and knowledge to serve the residents. I’ve spent my life trying to make Kent an even better place to live and I want to continue to do that as a member of the council.
• What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
Bhullar: I believe my personal and professional experience in this race sets me apart. As the parent of two children in Kent public schools, I know how important education and public safety are to families in our communities and how critical it is to provide access to good jobs. As a software developer at Starbucks headquarters, and having worked in a variety of businesses before that, I have first-hand experience managing budgets and making the most efficient use of resources. I look forward to putting these experiences to work for the people of Kent.
Budell: Experience matters, I have been president in my neighborhood since 2009, worked on three steering committees for the city, have volunteered to help other neighborhoods with their challenges by rolling up my sleeves and helping out. I have positive experience working with the city to get things done for neighborhoods and residents for no other reason than helping make the city better for everyone.
Stober: I have professional and volunteer experience in this community that they simply don’t have. I have been involved and have supported no less than a dozen community or charitable organizations with my time and money – my opponents have not and are not as invested in this community. I have public service experience from my time representing citizens in Olympia and I’m the only candidate in my race that can hit the ground running from day one. This is something the Kent Firefighters, former police chief and over 50 elected officials have realized when they endorsed my campaign.
• Do you support a fireworks ban in Kent?
Bhullar: I do support at least a partial ban on fireworks in Kent. Fireworks are an important Fourth of July tradition for many families, including my own, but they present many dangers and challenges for our city. I’ve heard a number of concerns from residents as I knock on doors for the campaign, including a volunteer of mine who is a veteran of the Marines who shared that the fireworks are very triggering for him. With the very dry weather, I also have concerns about fire safety, and a number of high-profile injuries related to fireworks this year show the danger they represent to kids and adults. For these reasons, I would support a ban on the fireworks that present the biggest danger and nuisance to the city, such as mortars and torpedoes, bottle rockets, and roman candles, to name a few.
Budell: After this dry Fourth of July, I think we need to take a long hard look at the sale of fireworks for fundraisers. I realize that not everyone wants to go to a public show, but we have a problem with illegal fireworks causing damage and it is hard for law enforcement to enforce the law and make the determination as to what is legal and not sometimes. I think we need to limit what is legal in the city and what is not and raise fines and penalties for illegal fireworks. I would suggest following the model that some cities in the Southwest and West have done and cancel the sale of fireworks when the fire danger is high and drought is forecasted, this way we save water, homes and potentially property damage.
Stober: I would support a fireworks ban in Kent but I hesitate in doing so. Why would I support it? Because when I have talked to many folks in the community they support it and as voters and taxpayers they are my employer. Why do I hesitate? Because fireworks bans in other cities have proven to be insufficient and no city has the complete resources to enforce the ban citywide.
• Do you agree with the pay raises for the mayor and council?
Bhullar: It’s difficult for people in the city to see large increases in salary for the mayor, while many people are struggling to provide for their families. I would not have supported a 35 percent raise for the mayor, but would like to see a comparison of mayor salaries from other cities similar to Kent’s size, and come up with a plan to get the mayor to that comparable level over a few years. I believe the 2.5 percent increase for council, which amounts to a cost-of-living-adjustment, is fair.
Budell: I agree that our mayor and council should have pay inline with other like-size cities, but I don’t think this was the right time to make that happen when we are still trimming the fat from the budget and haven’t increased crucial staffing for services. I do think that once we get our budget balanced and have our credit rating elevated again, we should increase but slowly increase not a huge jump in one fiscal year. I know that the mayor and sitting council deserve to be paid for all the hours they put in to make the city run, but it presents a potential negative resident view when we still aren’t fully funded in certain areas of city government but the elected officials are giving themselves raises.
Stober: The council has always had the ability to raise their own salaries but instead they let a citizen commission make that decision and I applaud that. Like every employer we must set a base salary for the position without regard to the person in the position or the person who may occupy the position in the future. I believe the raises were appropriate but not at this time. As a council member I would not accept the raise instead I would much rather use the money to bring back a person, program or service that was eliminated during the recession.
• What are your ideas to slow the annual operating losses at the ShoWare Center?
Bhullar: One of the first things I would do would be to look closely at the budget to see where we can limit some losses and ask for more details from city staff and the management team the city has contracted with to run the ShoWare Center. In addition, the ShoWare Center is great facility, and I think there are opportunities for Kent to leverage the growing region and its attractiveness to performers and companies, and bring more events to the city. I think we can do more to reach out to event organizers in the Greater Seattle area, as well as stable tenants like the Thunderbirds, to attract more events and provide more consistent funding throughout the year.
Budell: I would encourage the management company to look for other events to book at the ShoWare Center. We had ice speedway one year and never back again, try to get more Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) or alternative sporting events and concerts booked. I think if we try to offer a variety of concerts (cultural performers, visiting performances, etc.) we might be able to not only break even but finally make a profit.
Stober: I believe we need to look at more creative solutions. I have said for years I would like to approach the Muckleshoot Tribe about using ShoWare during the winter months. They have the White River Amphitheater that serves them well during the summer but they don’t have a winter venue big enough for some of their shows. This summer they have already booked 9 A-list performers with an average ticket price of $90. ShoWare has booked zero A-list performers and instead has an average ticket price of $20-40. I would also like to look at resources we can use to better market ShoWare. I believe the key to our success is taking action now rather than kicking the can further down the road and leaving taxpayers on the hook for over $4 million a year in debt payment and operating losses.
• Should the city continue to try to sell the par 3 golf course?
Bhullar: If the losses are set to continue, I would sell the course, but only at a fair price and to a developer who could guarantee benefits to the City of Kent and its residents. In addition to the money we would get from the sale to fund important projects, my focus would be on how we could ensure that in selling this great resource for our city, we can guarantee good-paying jobs for residents of Kent, affordable housing as part of any development and public access to the beautiful green space in that area.
Budell: If we have developers who agree with the vision of the city to make the par 3 a showcase and invest in also increasing the road width to accommodate the increase in traffic to the area, it might be financially advantageous for us. I however have used the par 3 as a golfer on several occasions and would be sad to see it go away. If the sale helps the greater I can agree. If it’s a short windfall that doesn’t help long term, then I would look at letting a professional golf management company take over operations and provide a profit.
Stober: No. We have found a way to cover the operating loss for ShoWare but are attempting to get rid of a parks and recreation gem in the par 3. I think of the kids in the Douglas Youth Golf Program who are choosing to learn the sport of golf rather than cause trouble in their neighborhoods. Many of these kids are low income and don’t have the resources to drive to Auburn to play. I think of the seniors that enjoy this outing and the sport of golf. I simply cannot support the sale of the Par 3.
• Does Kent need more revenue sources such as a vehicle license fee?
Bhullar: Kent needs more sidewalks, more police officers, and more access to parks, among other priorities. But raising any fee or revenue source should always be a last resort. Prior to even considering that, I would analyze the budget for possible savings and look at existing revenue sources to ensure no loopholes are being taken advantage of. For me the most important thing is whether we can show residents return-on-investment and we do that by investing the funds we have currently as effectively as possible.
Budell: No. The voters of this state have repeatedly said no to an increase in car tabs. If the city adds a fee to the licensing fee, we are telling the voters we don’t care about their voice and that doesn’t garner trust in city government.
Stober: It depends on what this revenue would fund. As for a specific vehicle license fee there are varying factors that would need to be decided before I could support it or explain why I am not supporting it. Council has the authority to authorize a license fee up to $20 – so would this be a $5, $10 or a $20 fee? What would the money be used for? Can we find a way to fund the project without raising taxes? I can’t support blind tax increases.
• What new taxes or fees would you support?
Bhullar: I do not support any new taxes or fees at this time.
Budell: I am not sure I support any new taxes or fees. Have we looked at other areas of income generation for the city? Have we looked at creative cost-cutting measures to save money from the budget? Until we can say yes with 100 percent certainty I don’t think we should be looking to ask for more money for fees or taxes. We should be encouraging new business to come to Kent and higher taxes won’t do that.
Stober: Again, this depends on the project that requires the funding. I am the only candidate that has worked in government – I know that we can do more with less. We can live within our means. Taxpayers are stretched far enough at this point without local government adding additional burdens. I’m going to ask tough questions before I support raising any taxes.
• Any fees or taxes you would reduce?
Bhullar: I don’t have any specific taxes I would reduce at this time. However, Washington state’s tax system is backwards, as low-income people pay more of a percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthy – with sales tax, property tax, and license fees being paid at the same rate no matter what your income. As a council member, I will look for ways under state law to lower the tax burden on low and middle-income people and ask the wealthy to pay what’s fair.
Budell: At this point, I wouldn’t reduce any fees or taxes. Why cut off the funding that we have become dependent upon since the state streamlined sale tax and we lost 12 million a year. If we can increase the tax base by bringing in new businesses and retaining our current employers we should stand pat.
Stober: I can’t commit to lowering taxes because action on council requires four votes. However, I can commit to working with my colleagues to take a comprehensive look at Kent’s tax structure and seeing what we can reduce. The first place I will look is utility taxes – the council raises them year after year and it is becoming more and more expensive to live in Kent. I think we need federal, state and local tax reform and I will work on the local level to ensure we have a fair system.