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Mayor would return to Town Council

9:32 am October 14th, 2013

Ray Harper wants to step down as mayor of Eatonville and return to his previous position as a Town Council member. Bob Walter wants to become a council member. One of them will get their wish in the general election.
Harper and Walter are candidates for a council seat that will be decided at the end of voting Nov. 5. The winner will replace Councilman Bob Schaub, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Harper, who previously had a four-year stint as a council member, has been mayor the past four years but isn’t seeking another term after deciding his job commitments outside of Town Hall are too pressing for him to keep up with mayoral duties.
Walter has been active in town affairs and currently works for the town on a contract basis, providing animal care and licensing-related services.
The candidates answered a questionnaire from The Dispatch to help inform voters about their backgrounds and positions on issues:
In your professional and personal experience and background, what qualifies you for this office?
Harper: I have four years on the Town Council, one year on the Planning Commission and four years as mayor. I have negotiated union contracts both at Boeing and for the town. I helped write the town’s personnel policy, and this year will be the eighth budget I have been involved with. In the last four years as mayor, I reduced both payroll and expenditures and have put the town in a better financial position. The last two years, I have been on the Pierce County Regional Council and also the Puget Sound Regional Council Economic District. This year I finished my bachelor of science degree in public administration.
Walter: I earned a bachelor’s degree from WSU in forest management. From 1982 to 2009, I was the director of dducation at the Humane Society in Tacoma, advocating for children and animals by cultivating kindness and preventing cruelty. I was also active in the animal component of disaster preparedness and response in Pierce County, including how it connects to the response effort for the humans impacted. I completed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) training, worked with many agencies throughout the county to identify shelter sites, personally helping to re-supply them during major flooding episodes. I’ve learned the governing process in the most direct way – serving over the past 10 years as a citizen member on various Town Council committees, including Parks, Stormwater, Trails and Animal Control. I’ve attended and reported in detail the council process and administrative actions for over five years. I have a solid and beneficial working relationship with the town, providing cost-effective and knowledgeable stray animal care and license canvassing. I served as the volunteer chair of the Eatonville Centennial Committee in 2008-09. Our committee did a fantastic job leading the celebration of our town’s heritage. And I have the time to devote to the issues.
What do you hope to accomplish if elected?
Harper: Eatonville has received a design grant to redo Washington Avenue sidewalks, but still needs to be awarded the construction dollars. The town needs to continue fighting for these dollars, and I believe we are in a position to receive funding for this project. We will be going to construction in the summer of 2014 on our trail program, and I would like to help finish that project. It involves building a trail and two pedestrian bridges over the Mashel River and the Little Mashel River so Weyerhaeuser road connects to Pack Forest and its trail system. Eatonville has been blessed by the generosity of the Nisqually Indian Tribe, and I would like to help strengthen that relationship. On Oct. 19, we will have the first Eatonville Salmon Fest with the tribe and the Nisqually Land Trust, and I hope to keep this an annual event. The visitor center has been open for two years now and I believe it could be better-funded to help promote our businesses and town.
Walter: If elected, I hope to bring Eatonville back onto solid financial ground, with as little impact on taxpayers as possible; make Eatonville a more business-friendly place; restore the trust of town residents in making responsible council decisions. That will require a more thorough look at all the options, especially when a decision could involve a major capital outlay; promote the incredible beauty of Eatonville’s natural setting; cultivate more citizen involvement by honestly listening to the concerns, ideas and visions of Eatonville’s citizens, and acting on them, especially when there is a strong consensus; help Eatonville become a more vital and attractive destination for travelers.
Name one to three issues you feel strongest about, and describe how you will address them.
Harper: I have worked hard to bring Eatonville’s financial condition under control, but hard decisions will have to be made in the future concerning the police and fire departments. Both departments have far exceeded my expectations, but we have needed grants to sustain our current funding levels. These monies will only last until the end of 2014, and we will be again running deficits in these departments. Public safety is a priority, but without additional funding, the town’s general fund cannot support the current model. I would support keeping our current staffing if revenue could be obtained, but the bottom line is having a balanced budget. Our utilities are financially stable, but our infrastructure is aging and we are in need of some upgrades. I support spending the resources to keep upgrading our water, sewer and electrical systems. Streets are the hardest utility to fund, and I would encourage the town’s staff to aggressively search for funding to repair and replace Eatonville’s streets. I believe I have the experience and attitude needed to help make Eatonville a better place to live.
Walter: The economy is the issue I feel most strongly about. Not too many years ago, the town had a few million in reserve for emergencies and unforeseen expenditures. That has been squandered in recent years – a lot of it on non-emergency spending – and we must begin rebuilding a reserve fund. We must continue looking for ways to cut costs while we create a stronger tax base through more business-friendly regulations. I feel we need to look more closely at other communities and how they’ve revitalized stagnant neighborhoods. We are lucky to have such a strong relationship with the Nisqually Tribe, and should continue to build on that partnership. A couple of other issues we should be addressing are closely related: How to capitalize more effectively on welcoming and serving the millions of tourists coming through our town, and how to nurture a more vibrant, thriving business climate. Eatonville needs a stronger identity and a prettier face. To one another, we are a fantastic community of givers, people who have stepped up over and over again to help those in need, those who’ve been suffering. But as it is right now, we’re remembered by many travelers only as a traffic bottleneck.

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