Vance heeds call to try, try again for Oak Harbor City Council | Election 2011
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
October 21, 2011 · Updated 1:18 PM
Third time’s a charm?
In the past four years, Mel Vance has lost two bids for seats on the Oak Harbor City Council. Most recently he ran an unsuccessful 2009 campaign for Position 5 and before that, he was defeated by Rick Almberg for Position 3.
Now, Vance is back and ready for another round with Almberg. They are vying for one of three open seats on the city council, all of which will be decided in the Nov. 8 general election.
City council positions are non-partisan and carry a four-year term. Members are paid a salary of $596 monthly, can be reimbursed for up to $650 per year for travel expenses and are eligible for a medical package.
Vance, a home-living assistant for the past 10 years, said he’s running this time largely because he was asked. He claims a wide cross section of the community approached him and requested he give it one more try.
“That’s what convinced me to run,” he said.
Vance believes a lot of things have been done wrong over the past four years and that there is a disconnect between the sitting city council and the public. A prime example, he said, was the decision to make Pioneer Way into a one-way street despite protests from the community.
“We need government leaders that will actually listen,” Vance said.
Alternatively, Almberg, the owner of his own general contracting management firm, said he’s proud of all that’s been accomplished since he took office. About 20 sorely-needed infrastructure projects have been completed, and that includes downtown.
Almberg, who voted for a one-way street, debates that most people were against the chosen design. He claims that about one-third of the public was for a one-way, one-third was for a two-way and the remaining third had no preference. He has no regrets and is happy with the outcome.
“If I had to vote again today, I’d vote the same way,” Almberg said.
Interestingly, both candidates say the budget will be their top priority. Vance said the economy “is in the toilet” and doesn’t believe it will improve anytime soon. And he’s not afraid to solve the problem with new taxes.
If elected, Vance said he’d like to see a small property tax pitched to voters that would fund the installation of solar panels and wind turbines at the new city shops off NE 16th Avenue. It would also pay for smaller solar panels that would power light poles around the city.
“If they (voters) say no, I would not want to move forward with it,” Vance said.
But if it were approved, the city would begin saving on its electricity bill from day one. He believes the project cost could be paid off in 10 years, which he said is about the time it takes with residential homes. Whether the power would be sold back to electric companies or used primarily to power city buildings would require further research, Vance said.
Almberg is equally concerned about the budget. During the past four years, he said he’s come to understand the scope of the city’s budget woes and the limitations of its revenue stream. He’s adamantly opposed to dipping into the city’s financial reserves and, if elected to a second term, would work to establish spending priorities.
“Every sacred cow, every element of the budget is up for adjustment,” Almberg said.
He also has an idea about how to increase revenue, specifically in the realm of sales tax. Almberg said he’s proud of the infrastructure projects completed because he believes they are the engine for new businesses and jobs.
Almberg’s future efforts will be focused on the completion of existing capital projects, such as the 4-million gallon reservoir on Gun Club Road. The reservoir, which he said will serve the northwest portion of the city, will spark growth by providing the water framework needed for new businesses and industries.
“Infrastructure is the leading edge in economic recovery and economic development,” he said.
The other major infrastructure project Almberg wants to participate in is the new wastewater treatment plant. He doesn’t have his mind made up yet, but he’s not willing to rule out Windjammer Park as a possible location. He’s not worried that most elected officials and candidates are opposed to the idea.
“I call that populous politics,” Almberg said.
Not only can public concerns such as odor and visual appeal be addressed, Almberg said Windjammer is the cheapest of the present alternatives. And in the end, people tend to vote with their pocket books.
Vance also wants to be part of the process. He doesn’t want to see the facility built at Windjammer Park and is leaning toward the old city shops off SE Barrington Street. He said he also thinks the city should consider building smaller facilities at multiple locations rather than a single large plant.
Both candidates say they are the best person for the job. Vance said he’s not in this for himself and that he will be more responsive to the public while Almberg said he believes his experience in industry and public office make him the better choice.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.