Walters-Miller

Ryan Walters (left) and Matt Miller will run for mayor of Anacortes.

Two candidates with different backgrounds and philosophies are running in the Nov. 2 general election to be the next mayor of Anacortes.

The candidates are Matt Miller and Ryan Walters, both Anacortes City Council members. Two-term Mayor Laurie Gere did not run for re-election.

The mayor is in charge of overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations, including 10 departments and about 230 employees. The mayor’s annual salary is between $96,000 and $116,000.

Miller, 55, is serving the last year of his second term on the City Council.

He said his career in the Navy, including supervising 400 people and 12 departments as the executive officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, has prepared him for the job of mayor.

He also co-owned and operated a toy store in downtown Anacortes for 15 years.

“I’ve been leading folks, both in government and in the private sector, my whole adult life,” he said.

His vision for Anacortes includes “smart growth, fixing our streets, quality of life, and collaboration and fiscal accountability.”

Walters, 41, is the longest serving member of the City Council. He is the planning director for the Samish Indian Nation and was previously a deputy prosecuting attorney for Skagit County.

Over his 10 years in office, Walters said he has a record of leadership and getting things done. He notes the legislation he has written to improve city governance and transparency and protect parks and forest lands.

He said his experience in land-use law and planning finance will be “invaluable” for Anacortes over the next four years. His goals include increasing multifamily housing, completing the Guemes Channel Trail, and creating a “more vibrant downtown.”

“I fundamentally believe Anacortes is and continues to be affordable for middle-class families,” he said. “That’s how it was when I grew up in Anacortes, and how I want it to continue to be going forward.”

Housing

Anacortes is beginning to see new types of housing, including multifamily complexes, largely spurred by new development codes passed in 2019.

Miller said increasing housing options will help more people who work in Anacortes live here. However, he said it’s not realistic to promise that 100% of the city’s workforce will be able to live in town.

He said the code changes help address the problem.

“The five-story building a lot of people don’t like is one of the best ways to address the issue,” Miller said.

Walters agrees more apartments and condos are needed for entry-level homeowners, seniors and others. He said new growth needs to be balanced with neighborhood character.

He wrote a moratorium passed by the council on five-story buildings in the R4 zone west of Commercial Avenue.

“As mayor, I’ll ask City Council to make that restriction permanent and look for other ways to ensure neighborhoods are protected,” Walters said.

{p dir=”ltr”}He would like to see more multifamily construction downtown. One idea is to work with property owners to develop vacant lots. Walters said the city could pay for a portion of a parking garage, helping lower the overall cost of construction.

Vaccine mandate

Walters said while he has no immediate plans to require all city employees to get vaccinated, he would consider a mandate if it was needed to protect the safety of employees and the public.

“We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Part of our response to COVID-19 has been to relax requirements as we open up. If the situation gets worse, or if there’s another variant, our response might have to evolve in a different direction.”

Miller said he is vaccinated and supports vaccines, but thinks the decision to get vaccinated should be between a person and their doctor.

He said ultimately it comes down to individuals evaluating their risk. In addition, he worries that a vaccine mandate will set a precedent for other government-mandated vaccines in the future.

Taxation

As a council member, Miller has voted against the city’s annual 1% property tax increase for the past three years.

“The argument every time is ‘it’s such a small impact, it’s a latte a month,’” he said. “Well eventually, the taxpayers are tired of buying truckloads of lattes.”

For the 2022 budget, the city’s proposed 1% property tax increase would generate an extra $53,857 a year, according to a Monday presentation to City Council.

The average property owner would pay an additional $5.88 a year.

Miller said as a former small-business owner, his philosophy is that government should look to reduce expenses rather than raise more revenue.

Walters argued that the 1% increase is needed to keep up with inflation and to balance the city’s budget.

“Property tax revenue is a frequent ideological target, but it’s not the real impact on residents — it’s through utility bills,” he said.

Walters said the City Council has raised utility bills consistently over the past eight years, and he proposes to lower them by improving efficiencies. He said while the higher rates were needed to fix failing infrastructure, there is room to bring them back down.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

The candidates had different ideas about what diversity means.

Walters said the mayor should cast a wide net when hiring and appointing people to committees and boards.

“Better decisions get made when we have a diverse set of voices in the room,” he said. “It would include life experiences, backgrounds, ethnicities and languages.”

Walters said it’s important that all feel welcome in Anacortes, which was the goal of the city’s inclusion resolution passed in 2019.

Miller said he sees the term diversity, equity and inclusion as a “a political angle to divide folks.”

“Diversity of ideas is far more important than something someone can’t control like their skin tone,” he said. “My opinion is it’s a political wedge.”

He said during his time in the military he worked with people from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds.

Miller voted against the city’s inclusion resolution in 2019. Though he supported parts of it, he objected to specific language about rejecting hate speech because the First Amendment exists to “protect speech that you don’t like,” he said.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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