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Opportunities for leadership | GUEST OPINION
You’ve read many opinion pieces from the current mayor since he was appointed to office last year, so I welcome this opportunity from The Marysville Globe to discuss the issues.
My family and I love living in Marysville. Our city provides bountiful recreational opportunities, a wealth of shopping and entertainment choices, and other amenities typically found in a larger city.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, Marysville faces significant challenges. There are many opportunities for Marysville’s leadership to do better.
Working with local governments all over the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, has taught me the vital importance of infrastructure. Traffic must move freely. Access to major highways is crucial to economic development, the responsiveness of emergency services and our overall quality of life.
Traffic in Marysville is severely impacted by growth, with wait times at train crossings already exceeding 20 minutes in some cases. With our city and our region expected to experience continued growth, this situation will only get worse as the amount of train traffic in Marysville increases.
Marysville’s traffic problems need more than study; they need action. Overpasses that don’t connect to I-5 won’t help most commuters. The big traffic project for this year, what one city spokesperson called “our big bang,” is a new overpass at 156th Street. We don’t know the final cost of the project. What we do know is that it provides an additional route into the Lakewood Triangle big-box retail center. It does not connect to I-5. That might be helpful for weekend shopping, but it does nothing for the daily commute, nor does it alleviate traffic problems for Marysville’s downtown merchants.
Railroad traffic is part of everyday life in Marysville. City leadership recently relied on an expensive consulting firm to study train impacts from a proposed coal terminal north of Bellingham. We certainly didn’t need a consulting firm to tell us more train traffic will have severe negative impacts on local commutes. A more practical approach is to adequately prepare by lobbying state and federal governments for funds to build overpasses that connect to I-5. Doing so is vital for free-flowing traffic, our quality of life, and the profitability of our businesses.
Global experience has also taught me value of transparency in local government. While the city has heavily publicized some successes, other developments are slipped through with a minimum of public attention. Last April, the city passed a rule exempting big-box retailers from paying traffic impact fees. This give away was just what Wal-Mart needed to revive plans for a new super-store at 64th and SR-9. Most Marysville residents think this project is dead and will be surprised to learn construction of the new Wal-Mart will begin in the next few months.
Much of Marysville’s recent growth came through annexation. I’ve spoken with people in the annexed area who didn’t get a voice in the decision to become part of Marysville. In my view, citizens must be consulted before they are subjected to an expanded government. No vote was taken when a series of annexations were forced through in recent years. Those annexations deeply affected people’s lives and livelihood, including one farmer I met who told me his surface water management fees (what farmers call the “rain tax”) went from $122 a year prior to annexation to more than $1,800 a year after annexation. Nothing changed for this farmer except the tax increase — and it may be enough to force him out of business. Forcing through annexations without a vote is wrong and goes against my philosophy of government.
We must do better when it comes to fiscal responsibility and governmental transparency. For instance, Marysville purchased the old Coca-Cola bottling plant with nearly $3.8 million of city funds. Then the city commissioned a study and determined the property was not needed after all. Now the city has sold the main part of the property for $2.3 million — much less than the original purchase price.
Campaign seasons come and go, and politicians make promises during each election cycle. I would like to see Marysville move beyond easy rhetoric and the feel-good ribbon cuttings and award ceremonies that make for good photos but provide little in the way of true leadership. Doing better, making a real difference in our city’s quality of life, requires hard work. It’s work that is well worth the effort. Let’s work together to make Marysville an even better place to live.