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Mayor hopefuls say how Ferndale should pay for roadwork

Road crews work to improve Ferndale’s Church Road on June 2, 2014. A plan to levy a penny gas tax to pay for roads and infrastructure in Ferndale failed at the polls in 2014; candidates for Ferndale mayor debate how to fix the city’s roads.
Road crews work to improve Ferndale’s Church Road on June 2, 2014. A plan to levy a penny gas tax to pay for roads and infrastructure in Ferndale failed at the polls in 2014; candidates for Ferndale mayor debate how to fix the city’s roads. The Bellingham Herald

How the city should pay for road improvements is just one issue for the five candidates seeking to become Ferndale’s next mayor.

The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 4 primary will move on to the Nov. 3 general election.

Responses below are verbatim as submitted to a Bellingham Herald questionnaire but in some cases were shortened for length. This is the second of two articles on their responses. Full, unedited candidate responses are available online at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog.

The order of candidate responses follows the order they were randomly assigned for the ballot. The candidates are: Carol Bersch, 61, sits on Ferndale City Council and owns Carol’s Cake Designs; Vicca Thompson, 43, owns and operates The Grow Shop and Ferntucky Medical; Jon Mutchler, 55, sits on Ferndale City Council and is the pastor at Ferndale Alliance Church; J. Manuel Reta, 64, owns Colima Design Alteration store and serves on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs; Cathy Watson, 55, sits on Ferndale City Council and worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center before moving to Washington.

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A plan to levy a penny gas tax in Ferndale to pay for roads and infrastructure failed at the polls last year. How should Ferndale pay for road improvements?

Bersch: I voted against the penny gas tax last year. I felt it wasn’t fair for our local service stations to carry the burden of the gas tax increase. The City of Ferndale has a transportation plan funded by efficient use of current resources and general fund appropriations. The State of Washington is making less money on the gas tax because of newer hybrid and electric vehicles using less gas. Currently, the Washington State Transportation Commission is expected to approve a pilot project designed to charge drivers for every mile they travel on public roads. Under this proposal, drivers would be able to choose from four options: an “all you can drive” flat fee, report their odometer readings to the state, have a GPS locator installed in the car or they can download a smartphone application. If Washington drivers are charged a “road usage” fee, they would get credited for any gas taxes paid.

Thompson: I think residents would approve a road improvement tax if we regularly saw our dollars spent properly. The majority of people want the city to have plenty of money to get all the jobs done, we just don't trust our current government (with good reason). There is lots of money available for road improvements from other sources. We can seek out Federal dollars and spend them in a way that restores the good people of Ferndale's faith.

Mutchler: The citizens spoke loud and clear: they did not want to raise their gas tax to repair roads. This does not stop all road improvements, but it slows down the progress we wish to make.

A different tax the citizens did approve in 2012 was the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) tax. 2/10 of one percent retail sales tax goes toward street projects. This has been effective in bringing in around $360,000/year which has helped us with matching grants to get some projects done. We also continue to be dependent upon state and federal grants for the big projects like Church Road and (in the future) the Thornton to I-5 connection.

Going forward we depend upon our skilled staff to attract grant money for some of our projects. We need also to maintain and advance a development-friendly posture as a community so we can collect traffic impact fees (TIFs) and sales tax revenues which can be used for road improvements.

Reta: The .50 (Metropolitan Park District) and penny (gas) tax, the voters will have their say. My concern do they have a say in the Jail issue?

Watson: The 2012 voter-approved Transportation Benefit District provides more than $360,000 a year for street maintenance. Though it has enabled the City to be more competitive for State and Federal grants, without those grants, none of our recent large-scale street improvements would have been possible. In the last ten years, Ferndale has received $13.9 million in State and Federal money: $1.4 million in low-interest loans/grants from the State Public Works Trust Fund, $5.8 million in additional State grants, and $6.7 million in Federal grants. …

In 2014, the Legislature also used a large portion of the Public Works Trust Fund to shore up education funding and in the 2015-17 budget the trust fund is effectively gone, leaving cities and counties without a much-needed funding source for infrastructure projects. The latest transportation package has only one project in Ferndale (the Slater Road roundabouts), scheduled for 2019-20. Though the project is important to the County as a whole, its $21 million price tag means there will be little State funding available for any future large-scale projects in Ferndale (e.g., the Thornton Road Connector to Second Avenue).

What does the city of Ferndale need to tackle in the next four years?

Bersch: The city of Ferndale really needs to concentrate on alternative routes through Ferndale and not rely on Main Street as the main route. Hopefully in the next four years we can receive funding from the State to make the Thornton overpass become a reality. We are currently on the list from the State for improvements on the I-5 Slator corridor with the installation of five full size roundabouts. Street repairs will never go away. The City of Ferndale is the fastest growing city in Western Washington outside of King County. With this we must consider do we have enough land for housing. Where will people live and how will they live and can they afford housing. We must be sure to be able to provide city services to meet the needs of an increase in population. We need to be able to have the capacity for water, sewer and stormwater.

Thompson: I notice that major health issues are common in Ferndale. It's time to be honest about our environmental situation and how it affects individuals, then act to clean things up.

I think we need to alleviate traffic around the trains and downtown too.

As Mayor, I intend to invite all Ferndale citizens to share their main concerns. We can overcome any obstacle and accomplish great things by working together.

Mutchler: It is essential that we establish a respectful, and cooperative relationship with the Lummi Nation as it relates to development at Slater. The tribe has purchased land in and near Ferndale with ambitious plans. In a sense they are “just” another large land developer. However, because of their important and unique status as a sovereign tribe, they should be considered a “developer-plus.” I have worked hard to build relationships with tribal and county leaders, which will be needed as we move forward as partners in obtaining win/win agreements between the tribe and city.

We need to continue to promote the Ferndale brand. We are a great place to start businesses. We have a compelling story as a great small city and I will do all I can to help attract high wage employers.

We need to respect each citizen. I often reflect on the great service I get at local places like Haggens, Woods Coffee, Chihuahua’s, TNT Promotional, Find Your Fashion, and other places where I go in and leave feeling like they truly “treat the customer first.”

I want that to be your experience whenever you come to City Hall. And frankly, I believe that is the service you do receive in Ferndale — the tone and ethos having been established by the current mayor who, himself, is in the “customer service” business.

Reta: The reason for the next 4 years is to change some of the rules or procedures in Ferndale government with help from taxpayers and city council

Our people, community and economic development.

Watson: We need to bring more family-wage jobs to Ferndale. Too many people can no longer afford to buy a home where they grew up because the job they have doesn’t pay enough and there aren’t enough family-wage jobs available. Ferndale has a lot to offer, but we need to actively market our area to entrepreneurs starting new businesses and existing businesses looking to relocate.

Ferndale will continue to grow, especially around the Main St./I-5 interchange. The City is already planning for that growth by hiring an engineering firm to design the most efficient intersections (i.e., signals or roundabouts) for the Main St. corridor from I-5 to Fourth Ave. Because we are more affordable than Bellingham, we will also see more growth in housing. We are already planning for where these people will live and ensuring we will have adequate water and sewer capacity to serve them.

We also need a strong, reliable revenue source to fix/replace our aging infrastructure and build the amenities people say they want in a 21st century city. Unfortunately, State and Federal infrastructure spending continues to decline. Since the Washington revenue system relies heavily on sales tax, we’ll keep trying to lure a large retail establishment to Ferndale, hoping they’ll provide more in tax revenue than they’ll cost us in road/traffic improvements.

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