PRESS RELEASE

May 1, 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ben Stuckart announced today that he will seek reelection as President of the Spokane City Council. Though the 2015 election is a year and a half away, Stuckart announced his intentions to seek reelection today to remove any doubt to his commitment to lead an aggressive legislative agenda as Council President.

Elected in 2011, Council President Stuckart has pushed the city forward by increasing transparency, pushing neighborhood involvement and establishing a cooperative atmosphere with all members of Council. In 2 years Council President Stuckart has been a sponsor of more than 40 ordinances and resolutions with over 30 being adopted unanimously. Stuckart, speaking about his efforts on Council: “I am most proud of the collaborative work we are doing to build our local economy and invest in our quality of life. We’re trying new things. We’re implementing new ideas. The city is collaboratively working to make Spokane the best city in America”.

Stuckart is currently leading a targeted investment project utilizing government, non-profit, and private sector resources in the East Sprague area. He has also been a champion of the Spokane Public Library and led the creation of the Spokane Arts Fund when the City Art’s Department was eliminated in Mayor Condon’s first budget.

The issues Council President Stuckart is currently working on include growing the city’s local food economy and ensuring that Spokane is protected from all impacts related to increased oil and coal train traffic.

“I look forward to continuing dialogue on how to make our community better, and I feel I have a great opportunity as Council President to make this happen”

Ben can be contacted at (509)710-9611 or at benstuckart@gmail.com or visit online at www.benstuckart.com

April 23: All About Water

The big issue on Monday’s agenda was the water rates ordinance. The mayor’s office developed a new water rate structure to reduce the 2012 water rate increase in order to make summer water bills more affordable. At our meeting, the Council passed this new structure unanimously. The new rates will take effect in June and can be seen here.

As you can see, this structure takes us back to 2010’s four-tier system instead of the current 5-tier system, which many residents have found confusing. The base charge will increase from $12.32 to $13.61, but the rate increase within each tier is not as steep and will make this resource more affordable for a lot of people.

A lot of people who spoke at the meeting were concerned that the new rate structure does not promote water conservation enough. I reminded these folks that the new rate structure is still a progressive, conservation-based structure; it’s just less extreme than what was currently in place. We are still encouraging citizens to use less water by charging more for the higher usage tiers.

Others expressed concern that low-income people in our community would struggle because of the rate increase, and said we should lower rates further for low usage brackets. I pointed out that usage doesn’t necessarily correlate with income – some people who are high income live in small homes and use very little water, while some larger families with lower incomes have larger homes and use more water.

A better solution to protect low-income people who struggle to pay their water bill would be a rebate program like SNAP offers for Avista bills. This is the type of program we can hopefully develop in the future.

I also pointed out at the meeting that an even tougher conversation than this one about water rates will be coming up in the next 90 days, when we’ll need to address sewage projects. In both of these situations, we need to be sure we are taking care of low income users.

Some services offered for water utilities that you may not know about:

  • Water audit services – the City will send an expert to your house free of charge to inspect your house and give you ideas on how to conserve water and cut down your water bill.
  • Comfort billing – the City will spread out your billing so that your payment is consistent throughout high use summer months and low use winter months.

Remember that when you pay your water bill, you’re not really paying for the water itself. Rather, you are paying for the water to be delivered to your home and for maintenance of the infrastructure that makes it possible for water to be delivered to you.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for more news on what the Council’s working on!

April 18: Water Rates & Other Citizen Concerns

Talk About Town kicked off with a citizen who raised a concern about public testimony from people who don’t live in the City of Spokane and therefore aren’t part of the Council’s constituency. This is an issue I plan to bring up at the next Council retreat in June, whether we decide to restrict testimony to Spokane citizens or have people say where they’re from before speaking.

I addressed a lot of questions and concerns about the new water rates and infrastructure for water and sewage. As you can see at the link above, the mayor’s proposal has all rates going up at least a penny, with increases graduated by usage tiers.

In the next several years, we will need to complete a sewer infrastructure project to fix the current system, which sometimes allows raw sewage to enter the river. Some citizens were of the opinion that we should disregard the Department of Ecology’s requirements for fixing this issue within a certain timeframe.

I explained that raw sewage is flowing into the river about 14 times per year. Regardless of Department of Ecology requirements, this is a problem we need to fix. People who live downriver can’t eat fish from the river right now because of the pollution. Most Spokane residents can agree that we don’t want raw sewage in the river.

To citizens who are frustrated with paying for water usage, I pointed out that we aren’t really paying for water itself, we are paying for water to be transported to our homes. Therefore water rates have to be based on infrastructure needs.

Another citizen brought up concerns about border patrol vehicles and officers responding at local police calls. Council Member Mike Allen confirmed that the border patrol is not in direct communication with SPD, but border patrol officers have been listening to SPD scanners and showing up to assist. Police ombudsman Tim Burns plans to follow up with the border patrol on the situation and report back to the Council and the community.

I also addressed a citizen who stated his opinion that we need to change the benefit and pay scale for unionized City employees to decrease the high percentage of the general budget that goes to wages and benefits. This is a conversation that it’s too early to have. We may address this issue sometime around the end of the second year of this new Council and new administration.

Thanks to everyone who came to the forum! Check back next week for another Council meeting update.

April 9: Autism, Trees and Police Report

We kicked off Monday’s meeting with two mayoral proclamations. The first, read at the meeting by Mayor Condon, declared the month of April Autism Awareness Month. Many community members showed up to express support for the proclamation. For more on local resources for people within the autism spectrum and their families, visit the Northwest Autism Center and the Autism Society of Washington – Spokane Chapter.

The second proclamation declared the cockspur hawthorn Spokane’s Utility Smart Tree of the Year. The result of collaboration between the City of Spokane, Spokane County Conservation District, Avista Utilities, and Asplundh Tree Expert Co., this proclamation encourages citizens to select appropriate trees to plant under power lines and suggests the cockspur hawthorn as an example.

We heard a summary of the Spokane Police Department’s February Accountability Information Management (AIM) report. The most frequent type of call the SPD responded to in February was domestic violence. In light of this, SPD is planning to work with community partners on decreasing rates of domestic violence. Vehicle prowling has also become a common problem recently. SPD is developing a public awareness campaign to educate citizens on how to avoid becoming a victim of vehicle prowls. The full AIM report can be found here.

The Council voted 6-1 to table an emergency budget ordinance creating a new Signal Operations Engineer position in the Street Department, since the position wouldn’t be filled in the foreseeable future.

We approved an ordinance making minor changes to public utilities and services, allowing the City to recover costs on duplicate billing for landlords and establishing a fee for missed appointments with utilities personnel.

We voted on a variety of minor ordinances for vacation of alleyways, zoning changes, and other housekeeping. We also deferred several items to a later date, including:

  • Noise control ordinance, which will now be considered on April 23
  • Three ordinances related to the Joint Land Use Study for Fairchild Air Force Base, which will now be considered on April 23
  • An interlocal agreement with Benton County to accept contract jail inmates from Spokane

Check back in next week for another update on what’s happening with the Council!

Initiative Reform and Marriage Equality

This week we cancelled our meeting due to spring break.  We did hold a hearing on a proposed initiative reform ordinance being brought forward by Councilman Salvatori and Councilman Fagan.  There were well over 70 people in attendance and about 30 people testified and asked questions.  The comments were unanimously against changing the ordinance.  The sentiment in the room was “If it is not broken, don’t try to take away the citizens’ rights.”  The two most controversial changes are eliminating the direct filing method and adding a fiscal impact statement.  This issue will be on the Council’s agenda on Monday the 16th. 

On the 16th we will also be voting on the marriage equality resolution.  This resolution supports the legislature’s recent law allowing same-sex marriage.  The council has been getting pushback lately that we are not focused on our job and shouldn’t bother with these resolutions.  I disagree.  Considering issues that matter to the public sends a signal as a city that we value our LGBT community and support their right to get married.  People may not be used to a strong City Council which actually takes positions on controversial issues, but that does not mean it is wrong. This issue will also be on the agenda on April 16th.

We have been focused on water rates (waiting for administration for 10 weeks now), we have multiple economic development issues ongoing and we are working hard to reform the police department.  As the weeks go by I will outline what we are doing in all areas that are important to citizens!

March 26: Southeast Spokane Town Hall

This Monday’s Council meeting was held at the East Central Community Center in a town hall format. In addition to the usual legislative business, we heard from community organizations and neighborhood councils in the southeast area of Spokane.

We started off with an update from the East Central Community Center and the center’s community program partners, which include Refugee Connections, Spokane Basketball, WIC, Jacob’s Well, Head Start and SNAP. This spring, the center is offering new youth programs like Homework Help, a collaboration with the East Spokane Kiwanis club, as well as Youth Zumba and Play & Learn.

Then representatives from the neighborhood councils of Southgate, Rockwood, Manito/Cannon Hill, Comstock, Lincoln Heights and East Central reported on current projects in their neighborhoods. (To find out what neighborhood you live in or get involved with your neighborhood council, you can check the website for Neighborhood Services & Code Enforcement.)

We also heard from East Central and Southeast substations of Community Oriented Policing Services (C.O.P.S.) about their recent activities, including training volunteers to do latent fingerprint lifts on prowled cars.

In other news, the Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting Measure 1, an item on the April 17 special election ballot. Measure 1 extends existing sales taxes to help pay for improvements to the Spokane Public Facilities District, which includes the Spokane Convention Center and the Spokane Arena.

Planned improvements include restoration of the Spokane River shoreline next to the Convention Center and upgrades to Arena seating. This project will boost the local economy by creating jobs and making Spokane more competitive as a site for events and meetings.

Find out more about the project on the Spokane PFD website and don’t forget to vote on Measure 1! Ballots should arrive at the end of this week.

March 12: Week of the Irish

Welcome to my new blog! We’re ten weeks into the Council year and going strong. Check in here for weekly updates on what’s happening with the Council and in Spokane.

This week’s meeting got off to a lively start with a mayoral proclamation declaring March 11 through 17 the Week of the Irish. Tim O’Doherty of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick accepted the proclamation and two Haran Irish dancers performed. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade will take place this Saturday at noon downtown – don’t miss it!

The Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will allow pro and con statements for City ballot issues to be included in the voters’ guide. More access to information from those on both sides of an issue will help voters make well-informed decisions.

The Council also considered a resolution supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining “persons” as human beings, not corporations, in response to the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Lots of community members showed up at the meeting to talk about this issue, most in support of the ordinance. I voted in favor, along with Council Members Waldref and Snyder. Unfortunately we had a 3-3 split vote, which meant the resolution did not pass.

Thanks again to everyone who came to the meeting. I appreciate hearing from all of you! Check back next week for another update.