It may not be a monster under a bed, but the thing that keeps Kennewick Mayor Steve Young awake at night is scary enough.
Growth. Specifically, population growth without a compensating investment in streets, utilities and other infrastructure to keep up.
Young and his fellow mayors from Pasco, Richland and West Richland shared the past, present and future challenges of municipal governing at the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the Cities program, held Wednesday at Three Rivers Convention Center.
The Tri-Cities added roughly 90,000 new residents between 2000 and 2016, with 24,000 landing in Kennewick, according to Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC) figures.
Residents are too unwilling to invest in infrastructure or in projects that would boost the economy and bring in new tax revenue, Young said in response to a question.
He cited last year’s failed sales tax boost to expand the Three Rivers Convention complex as an example of residents shying away from investing in the future.
The added tax base could have offset the cost to upgrade and maintain city infrastructure, he said.
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins picked up the theme. The chamber of commerce crowd may be more inclined to pay attention to municipal budgeting, but most people think municipal governing is easy. He admitted that criticism on social media can sting.
“Trolls get me a little bit,” he said.
Trolls get me a little bit.
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins
In response to a related question, Richland Mayor Bob Thompson said balancing growth and his community’s environmental ethic puts city leaders in an “awkward” spot.
He didn’t mention it by name, but the city’s plan to extend Rachel Road across the Amon Basin in south Richland is a source of frustration, he said. Rachel Road has long been in the city’s plans and induced the Kennewick School District to invest in an elementary there.
Rachel Road opponents, he said with his characteristic bluntness, are engaging in “hypocrisy.”
“There are individuals who have what they want. They have their viewsheds,” he said. “Those are the people I like to screw with.”
West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry said residents of his city do the vast majority of their shopping in neighboring jurisdictions, meaning the city loses out on sales tax revenue.
The youngest of the Tri-Cities, West Richland is trying to make itself attractive to business. Last year, it unveiled its I-Plant, which pre-treats winery waste before it hits the municipal sewer system, to woo wine producers.
West Richland is fortunate in that most of its utilities, streets and related infrastructure are relatively young, but the city must plan for the day when those must be replaced, Gerry said.
Pasco’s Watkins scored the biggest applause line when he said master planning for the Broadmoor area around Road 100 promises to make the stretch a landing spot for the businesses residents say they would like to see here.
“We’re going to have the perfect place for Nordstrom, Trader Joe’s, Six Flags and Ikea,” he joked.