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Everett District 5 challengers differ on solving city issues

Demi Chatters, Kelly Fox and Ben Zarlingo are running for Council District 5. Pictured are, from left to right, Chatters and Fox; the Tribune will post Zarlingo's picture when available.

EVERETT — Three people are angling to represent residents in City Council District 5 covering southeast Everett.
They are Demi Chatters, Kelly M. Fox and Ben Zarlingo. All are making their first run for City Council.
The district is comprised of the southern two-thirds of Pinehurst-Beverly Park Neighborhood, much of the Twin Creeks and Cascade View neighborhoods and all of the Silver Lake Neighborhood.
Chatters, 45, lives in the Pinehurst-Beverly Park Neighborhood and has lived in her district for 14 years. Chatters is currently a self-employed entrepreneur, and has worked in real estate and property management.
Fox, 44, lives in the Silver Lake Neighborhood. Fox is currently the executive director of Snohomish County EMS, a nonprofit organization that provides training on patient care, plus certifications, to fire districts and ambulance companies.
Zarlingo, 63, lives in the Silver Lake Neighborhood. Zarlingo has lived there for 30 years and is active in its neighborhood association. He is retired from a career developing electronics and digital communication technologies.
The districts format is new to Everett this year; five of seven council seats will be locally elected. Only voters within the district decide who advances in the Aug. 3 primary and who wins the seat in November.
Ballots are due by Aug. 3.
The Tribune asked five questions to each and is reprinting their answers.

Q) What are the key reasons you are running for City Council?

Chatters: My focus has generally been on progressive solutions through business and industry, so when I was initially approached about running for this elected position, I asked myself this same question. Ultimately, I ran because my professional, educational, and community advocacy background, along with the lived experience of being an ordinary working-mom, homeowner, and long-time community member means I have the right tools and perspective to center the needs of working families at the decision-making table.

I am running for office because I have the skills and abilities to do a good job on behalf of the people of Everett. I am a strong leader and Everett needs governance on some very complicated issues. I am ready to address the budget deficit, Covid recovery, and local/regional transit needs in Everett. I also want to increase representation on the council and serve as the first openly queer Everett City Councilmember.

I’ve been deeply involved in neighborhood issues since 1991 and have interacted with the Council many times as they’ve grappled with a budget deficit, homelessness, and the strains of rapid development. At least 3 of the 5 districted councilmembers will not be serving next year, and I am worried about the loss of knowledge and momentum. I feel I have the background and judgment needed, and I’ve been endorsed by three current councilmembers because they think I’m the best candidate to keep Everett moving toward workable, responsible solutions.

Q) Within your district, what specific things are voters requesting you do for them if elected?

Chatters: Community members tell me they want an advocate for issues impacting ordinary people, including: supporting workers, businesses, good jobs and career paths other than college degrees; Everett Mall business development; housing affordability and availability for families and seniors; helping unhoused residents; public transportation and street improvements; community green space options; and maintaining reliable police and fire response times. My priorities were developed around community conversations, and I am continuing to listen.

Fox: Voters are excited about increasing representation on the council. They want diversity in their government representatives. Many voters are concerned about the economy, and Covid, and the recovery of our city and nation. There are a lot of shuttered businesses and a mismatch between job openings and job seekers. I have also heard a lot of people wanting the Silverlake walking trail to be finished.

Zarlingo: Voters want a city to provide a good base on which to build the rest of their lives. They are concerned about crime, development impacts, traffic, housing costs, homelessness, and fair taxes and efficient government spending. The Sound Transit taxes on property and vehicles are a sore point, as many taxpayers are concerned that they are getting minimal benefit from the taxes now and may not see light rail reach this area in their working lives.

Q) In a council vote which could come during your next four years, would you approve asking voters to merge Everett Transit with Community Transit? Why yes or no?

Residents are clear about needing better service that keeps pace with our growing population and offers additional routes, greater span of service per day, and improved frequencies during both peak and off-peak hours and days. Impact on seniors and people with disabilities, as well as transit staff also matters. I would approve sending a comprehensive proposal for streamlined and integrated services to voters so they can provide direction as we work to resolve our structural budgetary challenges.

Fox: I would approve asking voters for the merger. I believe it is the only way to sufficiently expand services and address Everett’s population growth. It will increase transit access for the largest number of residents and will improve services countywide. Increased bus routes, reduced walk times, and expanded hours are all things that would result from this merger. The merger would result in a sales tax increase, and we are drastically improving services in exchange.

Zarlingo: The merger is not a painless way to improve service or solve the budget problem, and could increase the total sales tax. High sales taxes can discourage businesses from locating or staying here, and the resulting loss of tax revenue could make the budget problems worse. Also, sales taxes fall proportionally harder on lower income Everett residents.
I’m not promising a vote now, and am generally more cautious about significant sales tax increases than I am about other tax and fee revenues.

Q) City officials have studied three concepts toward resolving Everett’s negative-cashflow problem. They are: approaching voters to enact a public tax for parks services, approaching voters for a property tax lift, and approaching voters to sever the Everett Fire Department from the city budget and transform it into a regional fire authority (a fire authority would set its own taxes to fund itself.) On council, would you vote “yes” to proceed on any of these three?

I would vote to approve placing all of these proposals before the voters. As a City Councilmember, I would also be committed to engaging with the community to provide information and communication about the proposals, and about the implications and impact of the vote. Transparency in government is a core value for me, and I hear from community members that they share this value.

I would vote for the Everett Fire Department to form a regional fire authority. I have participated in regionalization efforts in the county and experienced their success firsthand.
I would support a property tax lift. We must address the structural budget deficit Everett has faced for decades.
For parks, I would support other efforts from partnering with private organizations to renting park spaces to cover funding needs before enacting a public tax.

The city Fiscal Advisory Committee recommended 24 actions including these, and details are critical to a wise vote. Example: There are multiple ways to separate Fire from the City budget, with different taxes and local control. Proposals will likely increase some taxes and shift others—the public should be informed and weigh in.
Everett gets only a quarter of your property taxes and that part is growing much slower than costs, leading to cuts in City services. We should consider a property tax lift, the first in many years.

Q) The current City Council voted 5-2 to create a “no sit-no lie” zone contingent to the Pallet Shelter program. Should the city retain this zone, add more zones like it, or delete them altogether?

Residents across the city are dealing with the impact of the unhoused crisis, from encampments to trash and debris and worse. Selecting areas for special “no sit-no lie” zones just punts the problem down the road. We need to respect the whole community. Delete these zones and let’s invest in solutions that address underlying causes of homelessness, like addiction, mental health issues, and domestic violence, while also increasing emergency, transitional, supportive, and permanent housing options.

The city should delete them altogether. The ordinance penalizes those without resources to make different choices. It criminalizes and discriminates against homeless individuals. It also increases the workload of our police and court officials while doing nothing to address the problem. We need to dedicate funding to constructive alternatives that will make a difference like the Housing First model with proven success in reducing homelessness as well as generated tremendous cost savings for communities.

Zarlingo: The Council has focused on a problem zone and partnered with an outside agency and housing builder to test a 2-part solution. The no sit-no lie measure includes services, diversion, and enforcement. It’s designed to address the issues of those experiencing homelessness and also other citizens and businesses. This approach should be given a chance to work. The Council should get credit for taking a serious look at the issues and taking action on a combination approach that considers all Everett residents.



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