In the Aug. 4 primary, three candidates with no elected experience — but with much to say about the way things should be done on the Puyallup City Council — have thrown in their hats to unseat the one-term incumbent, John Palmer, from his District 2, Position 1 seat.
The three candidates are Zac Green and Diana Martin, two longtime residents of Puyallup, and Keith Sherrill, a retired U.S. Army veteran and resident of Puyallup for the past three years.
Green, 33, a 2000 Rogers High School graduate, makes the most pointed jabs at Palmer’s record. Green argues Palmer and others on the council consistently fail to ask the “right questions” when discussing how to fully fund a new project or initiative.
“There is always a discussion on what tax to increase to pay for it,” Green said. “There is never a discussion of where we can cut back and free up funds to lessen the burden on Puyallup residents.”
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In the Pierce County Voters’ Pamphlet, Green claims Palmer was “instrumental in passing a massive increase in the city’s utility rates, the largest in our history.”
Green goes on to say that by 2017 utility rates will increase by 20 percent. Green also claimed Palmer voted to “increase property taxes, a direct impact on homeowners.”
Palmer said Green’s claims are over-exaggerated.
“Our water utility is in a crisis due to the fact that we have very old pipes that are beginning to break,” Palmer explained. “We had 16 water main breaks and 144 smaller pipe leaks in the last two years, which are costly to fix. To begin to tackle this problem and replace pipes, council approved a gradual rate increase over four years that will increase the average water bill from $21 per month to $24 per month.
“It is much cheaper to replace pipes than it is to fix breaks on an emergency basis,” Palmer said. “Any candidate that panders to voters by saying utility rates can remain frozen is doing a great disservice to our citizens because avoiding proper pipe replacement will end up costing us more to pay for unavoidable emergency repairs that will ultimately force us to dramatically increase utility rates.”
Property taxes in Puyallup are a fixed amount and does not vary based on assessed value, Palmer said. For seven years during the recession the Puyallup City Council voted to freeze the property tax rate so to not impact citizens but in doing so, the city, according to Palmer, lost a significant amount of its buying power.
This year Palmer and five other council members approved a 1 percent inflationary adjustment on the property taxes. Inflation has been at about 2 percent, so Palmer said a small 1 percent increase helps the city to barely keep up.
“This adjustment allowed us to refill a police officer position that was cut during the recession to help protect our city,” he said.
Palmer began his first term in 2012. He also served as the Chair on the Puyallup Planning Commission from 2009-2011. He holds a master’s of public administration and has had a 30-year career with the Environmental Protection Agency, currently as a senior policy adviser.
Martin, a Puyallup High School graduate and retiree from Boeing in occupational medicine after 17 years, said she has lived in Puyallup all her life and has never left because she thinks it’s a great place to live.
Martin said her campaign platform is public safety. A priority of hers, if elected to office, would be to ensure a new public safety building is built for the Puyallup Police Department.
“I’m going to advocate for a new police station with a larger jail,” Martin said.
Martin said that as a graduate of the Puyallup Police Citizens Academy she has received inside knowledge about the severity of the situation and has had discussions with Chief Bryan Jeter.
Even if she is not elected to office, Martin vows to help Jeter and his staff find property for a new police station and jail.
Martin is a block watch organizer and current captain in her neighborhood. She is advocating for traffic calming in all Puyallup neighborhoods where speeding is a concern.
Another concern Martin has is Puyallup’s continuing homelessness problem.
“We’re getting more homeless in town than I’ve ever seen,” Martin said. “I do not want to see a homeless shelter in Puyallup because it’s going to bring in more homeless from other areas.”
Finally, Sherrill is the youngest of the candidates at age 30. He and his wife, Gracie, and 2-year-old son, Samuel, have lived in Puyallup for three years.
He served in the U.S. Army for 13 years and was stationed last at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which brought him to Puyallup.
“I think I can make a positive impact on the community,” Sherrill said. “Based on my age and my child’s age, I use all the parks and enjoy the restaurants downtown. I really like the community and we’re very involved. I really want to bring vitality and perspective to the city council.”
Sherrill serves as Chair on the Puyallup Parks, Recreation and Senior Advisory Board.
Homelessness, Sherrill said, is an issue that cannot be ignored.
“I think the council has wished it away or ignored it,” Sherrill said. “We need to bring in other experts from municipalities or nonprofits. We need to find partners to help them, not enable them.”
Green, who served as a citizen representative on the city of Puyallup Task Force on Homelessness, said there needs to be a regional solution.
“We need to find a way to work with the county and the state,” Green said. “There is only a small amount that a council can do on the dialogue.”
Andrew Fickes: 253-472-0341