Incumbent Holly Smith and her general election challenger Steffen Burney will face off on Tuesday, Nov. 2 for the Yelm City Council Position No. 4 seat.
The candidates detailed their position on Yelm’s rapidly growing population, but approached the question in different ways. The Growth Management Act projects Yelm to be a city of 20,000 people by 2045.
“I guess, my biggest hope is that we can continue to maintain the small-town atmosphere,” Smith said. “Even if we do grow by that much, I just hope that we can just maintain this type of atmosphere that we have.”
Burney said she hopes the city can do the work so it’s prepared for the projected growth.
“We have roughly 25 years to get to the point where we can plan accordingly for that growth,” she said. “And so, what we are doing today is going to affect our future. And with that type of projection, I think it’s really easy to see that there are substantial changes that need to be made in (the) relative near future.”
The candidates also detailed what they believe to be the greatest challenges the city will face in the coming years.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be the growth,” Smith said. “I also think with the new bypass coming, there’s been a lot of discussion about that. Once they start that construction, that could contribute to our traffic. But I just think … we need to try to make sure the growth doesn’t overwhelm our services here.”
Burney also said the growth would be a challenge, though she focused her response on Yelm’s traffic congestion. She said she would like to see more collaboration between Yelm and surrounding municipalities to address the issue since their communities feed into Yelm’s congestion.
“Planning some of our infrastructure with other counties and other cities would be a huge benefit,” Burney said, adding that Yelm can fix its own problems, but that wouldn’t fix the regional overflow onto the streets of the city.
The candidates shared the experience they have in managing financial systems like a city’s budget. Smith said she’s helped manage the budgets of several nonprofits as well as business budgets.
Burney said she has “had direct or indirect responsibility for overseeing, proposing and monitoring various different budgets” within Washington state government over the last 10 years.
The candidates spoke to whether they would increase water rate taxes to fund city initiatives.
“Personally, right now, I would say that I would not want to (increase water taxes), however ... I know that many of the systems are antiquated,” Smith said. “For instance, I know that I am on the city sewer step program, and my understanding is that the system is going to need a major overhaul. If it has to cost tax dollars to do that, to make sure that the sewer and all that is still going well, then I may have to (increase taxes), but I definitely would need more information.”
Burney said she’s seen how the water fees have lessened over the past few years, something she feels is positive, but said a fee increase would be situational and could possibly be proposed at some point by city council.
“As far as the fees going up for water, what I would like to see is more citizen engagement and more opportunity to potentially have a choice, because it’s not the only way to charge citizens by way of water,” Burney said. “What are the other options and how do we get to a point of understanding with our residents?”
The candidates also shared how they would support Yelm’s economy, to which Smith said she would support local businesses and do her “best to vote in what is right for the whole city.”
Burney said that as a representative of the citizens of Yelm, she would put the people first and work to identify and address their needs “whether that’s different restaurants or shopping areas or infrastructure issues.”
Both candidates also provided their vision for Yelm’s future.
Smith circled back to envisioning a Yelm that has grown, but retained the small-town atmosphere it currently has.
“It’s what draws people here,” Smith said. “It’s what I enjoy about living here and I think most people do. So just, as we grow, (it’s) trying to make sure that we don’t grow too fast and making sure that we can maintain that small-town life.”
Burney agreed, though she said she focused on potential collaboration the citizens of Yelm could have with neighboring areas to promote a continued “close-knit feel” for the community as the city grows. She said she hopes agriculture, countryland and forested areas are still part of Yelm’s future.
The voting period begins Oct. 15, and ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.