Burlington City Councilman Joe DeGloria is challenging Mayor Steve Sexton’s communication skills and his handling of city finances as the two square off in the race for mayor.
DeGloria, who prides himself on being a good steward of public funds, said he’s voted against a property tax increase in each of his five years on council.
He said he is concerned with a plan from city staff to ask the council to increase property, utility and business taxes annually for the next three years. He has built his campaign around Sexton’s management of the budget.
Sexton, who is running for a third term, said the city has to prepare for the next recession.
He said 60 percent of the revenue in the city’s general fund comes from sales, but retail growth is starting to slow while the costs of salaries and benefits continue to increase.
“We’ve deferred a lot of revenue enhancements that other cities have taken,” Sexton said.
The three 2% property tax increases would cost the average household in Burlington $6 each year, he said, and 2% increases to utility taxes would cost about $5 a year.
“I’m sick to my stomach over it,” DeGloria said of the proposed tax increases.
While Sexton disagrees, DeGloria said he feels the city hasn’t taken a close enough look at cutting spending before proposing tax increases.
In one instance, DeGloria said he cut the cost of a project to improve restrooms at Skagit River Park by challenging staff to think more frugally.
“My friendly challenge to the staff saved about $220,000,” he said.
In another instance, he said he and other council members were not introduced to the interim city administrator until just before they were asked to confirm him.
“I don’t believe that’s good communication,” he said.
While DeGloria opposes the proposed tax hikes, he said some may be necessary to correct the budget.
“I believe it will have to be a combination of (cutting) expenditure and increasing taxes,” he said. “I don’t see another way.”
Sexton said the proposed tax increases are not yet policy, and he expects the council will select parts to implement.
“Over the last eight years, (we’ve had) clean audits from the auditor,” Sexton said. “(We’ve had) budget surpluses at the end of every year.”
When the city has encountered problems in the finance department, he said it has worked to correct them.
“I know Joe would have to agree with this,” he said. “The department today is stronger than it was last fall, and it’ll be stronger next fall too.”
Sexton said the biggest issue facing the city is street homelessness, and if re-elected he wants to find collaborative solutions.
In the past he’s called on the county to use the old jail in Mount Vernon as a homeless shelter, and he wants to continue to look into that.
“It just makes the most sense,” he said. “It would be the easiest transition to at least a temporary homeless shelter.”
He said he wants to hold regular meetings with leaders at the county and other cities about how to best use scarce housing and homelessness funding and avoid duplicating services.