A $20 car tab fee, planning and growth are the key issues facing the Richland City Council, according to challengers hoping to unseat Dori Luzzo Gilmour in Position 7.
Luzzo Gilmour is running for re-election against Eldon Eskeli and Michael Alvarez in the Aug. 1 primary.
A fourth candidate, Frank Boasen, appears on the ballot but is not running an active campaign.
Luzzo Gilmour was elected to a two-year term in 2015 under Richland’s unique electoral system. The council member who wins with the fewest number of votes serves for two years rather than the more typical four. This ensures that four of the seven city council members face re-election every other year and residents have an opportunity to install a new majority.
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Primary ballots were mailed this week and must be postmarked or returned by Aug. 1 to count. The top two will advance to the Nov. 7 general election and the winner will be sworn in in January.
City Council is a nonpartisan position. Pay increases to $1,143 per month in 2018 under a resolution adopted a number of years ago.
Luzzo Gilmour graduated from Richland High School, Central Washington University and the WSU Tri-Cities enology and viticulture program. She describes herself as a mother and is active in Christ the King Catholic Church.
She has held a number of positions in the area related to the wine industry.
Her priorities as a council member include ensuring Richland remains a good place for children. Smart urban planning and growth management are the keys. She has often provided an outsider voice on the council, but she joined her peers earlier this year by voting to enact a $20 car license fee to raise money for the Duportail Bridge project and for road work. She defended the council’s decision, saying it considered a wide variety of alternative funding sources. The fee ties the cost the the use and includes a provision to refund the money to low-income residents.
She said preserving the things people love about Richland, including its 58 parks, police department and safe streets are the biggest challenges facing the city as it absorbs a growing population.
“We are building out,” she said during a recent candidate forum organized by the League of Women Voters. “We need to concentrate and make sure we’re not neglecting the central core.”
She does not plan to raise or spend more than $5,000, according to her registration statement to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Eskeli is a lifelong Richland resident who is making his third attempt at securing a position on the City Council.
He casts himself as a voice for lower-income, blue-collar workers living in Richland, people like him. Eskeli said he’s grateful for the opportunities Richland has given him and he wants to make sure they’re in place for any future grandchildren.
He ran this year out of a sense the current council has lost its focus on the community, he said.
“They have been disconnected from the public,” he said.
Eskeli would shelve both the Duportail Bridge project and the city’s plans to extend Rachel Road across the wildlife habitat of Amon Basin Preserve in south Richland, he said.
Richland needs to search for other funding sources for the bridge and $20 is too big a burden for low-income residents, he said.
“When you’re making $15 an hour and you’re barely able to make rent, that $20 could be gas, lunch or diapers,” he said.
He has not filed a candidate registration statement with the PDC.
Alvarez is a 25-year Richland resident and Marine Corps veteran. He graduated from New Mexico State University and owns Vision Mortgage, providing residential mortgates. He is active in the Tri-Cities Association of Realtors and serves on the Richland Parks and Recreation Commission.
Alvarez is running on a broad platform that emphasizes quality of life, public safety, keeping fees and taxes low and fostering business relationships.
His finance and human resources background and active engagement in the community will bring a missing set of skills to the council that can seem distant to its residents, he said.
Alvarez said he would use his financial skills to scrutinize development and also to pursue funding for the Duportail project so the city can reduce, or eliminate, the car tab fee. The city should not incur long-term debt for the project.
“I know how to read the balance sheets,” he said.
He has raised and spent $2,428 on the campaign, according to his campaign finance report to the PDC. his campaign is self-funded to date.
Boasen did not submit a statement to the online voters guide and has not registered his campaign with the PDC. He could not be reached for an interview.
For the record
The elected seven-member Richland City Council is the city’s highest legislative authority and hires and fires the city manager.
The city’s 2017 budget of nearly $259 million funds a wide variety of activities, including capital projects, public safety, parks, recreation, economic development and utility service.
Its chief revenue sources include property taxes, retail sales tax, utility fees and building permit fees. The city, population 54,200, employs 464 people.