BURLINGTON — Candidates for Burlington mayor covered a wide range of topics at a forum Thursday hosted by the League of Women Voters of Skagit County.
Incumbent Steve Sexton, who is seeking a third term, focused on his accomplishments in office and on his plans for addressing homelessness, while second-term city Councilman Joe DeGloria criticized Sexton’s management of the city’s finances and roads, promising changes under his leadership.
In his opening comments, DeGloria said he believes in fiscal responsibility, adding that he’s voted against property tax increases every year he’s been on the council.
Sexton said in addition to his mayoral experience he has 30 years of business management experience, which has taught him that everything depends on building a strong team of managers.
“And that’s exactly what I think we’ve done over the last eight years,” he said.
When asked about the biggest challenge facing the winner, Sexton said it was homelessness, and specifically the city’s street homeless.
He said the city needs to help provide a place for the street homeless to sleep, take showers, do laundry and get connected with human services.
“We need to have more supply of shelter beds for those folks,” he said.
DeGloria said he believes the biggest challenge is fixing the finance department, which he has said is in crisis.
He said he supported the hiring of two consultants to review the city’s budget, and they found discrepancies. He said the budget touches every department in the city, so it’s important that it’s as accurate as possible.
While he agreed homelessness is a problem in Burlington and that the city can’t go it alone on this issue, he said he would tackle homelessness by investing more in enforcement.
“I don’t think it’s OK for someone to litter or openly urinate or defecate in public places,” DeGloria said.
If elected, he said he would want to partner with the county and other cities to spend money from House Bill 1406.
When asked how the candidates would spend a hypothetical $1 million grant, Sexton said he would fund a proposed affordable housing project for veterans, in partnership with Skagit County and the American Legion.
DeGloria said he would use the money to build more restrooms near the sports fields at Skagit River Park, where he said there is often a line of 50 to 60 people.
His second priority would be to make the city’s parks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On road improvements, DeGloria said the city is spending too much on streets near the retail area, while ignoring residential streets. Many of those streets, he said, have no sidewalks and gravel shoulders.
Sexton said he wished every street had paved sidewalks, but that the funding isn’t there. He said state and federal grants are available for larger projects such as those in retail areas, and that money can’t be diverted.
He suggested following the lead of Mount Vernon and Anacortes by asking the voters to support a 0.2 percent sales tax increase, raising $2 million annually for road projects.
The two both said they supported a ban on single-use plastic bags, saying it should be considered by the council.
And while DeGloria said he believes “it’s not the role of government to tell people what they can and cannot do,” he said a minor imposition such as this would be acceptable.