Addressing cultural dynamics within the community, outsourcing the Langley Police Department, city infrastructure and affordable housing were among the dozen or so topics discussed by four Langley City Council candidates at a forum on Tuesday night.
Candidates Burt Beusch, Thomas Gill, Christy Korrow and Peter Morton were the focus of the League of Women Voters’ forum at the Langley United Methodist Church attended by around 50 people.
Beusch and Korrow are running for position 1, while Gill and Morton are vying for position 5. The candidates running for position 2, Dominique Emerson and Bill Nesbeitt, did not participate because Nesbeitt was unable to attend.
Each candidate gave opening statements on what their missions as city council members will be if elected, then took turns answering questions submitted to the League of Women Voters prior to the forum.
The candidates shared similar views for how they would address “long lasting division and hard feelings” that derived from topics such as noise in town, the funicular and the sanctuary city debate and avoid potential stalemates in government because of it. They supported finding a middle ground, remaining civil and working through any issues that may divide the public.
“I think the reality is that there is always a middle ground that exists,” Beusch said. “I think that true leaders always find a way to keep the conversation alive and keep the ideas coming. I learned this as a business leader for over 38 years.”
The candidates were in line with their opponents when it came to whether or not they would support eliminating the city’s police department in favor of contracting police services with the Island County Sheriff’s Department.
Korrow and Beusch felt it would require comparing costs and effectiveness. Beusch also said it was difficult to answer the question “in a bubble,” but felt public safety and security is important and added that he thinks the department is doing a good job.
Morton thought the police department should remain as it is. Gill was blunt when he said it was a “very poorly thought out idea.” He said the Town of Coupeville subcontracts with the sheriff’s office and have two full-time officers. But, as a result, it pays at least double what Langley does for its department.
“It’s not a cost-effective solution, and our sheriff’s department as it sits right now is already vastly stretched thin,” Gill said. “There are times at which the only officer available on South Whidbey is a Langley officer and it would be a shame to lose that resource. Because without it, who knows what could happen.”
Balance is the key to serving the needs of the residential and tourist populations in Langley, according to Morton.
“Clearly, the answer is some place in between,” he said. “I think balance can be achieved and it has to be taken on a case by case to come up with ideas where we can enhance one or the other. You don’t want Langley to become a total party town, and at the same time you don’t want it to be dead quiet at night where nothing is happening at all. I’m about halfway there on this one.”
Gill said the city is presently doing a “decent” job at accommodating residents and tourists. He suggested that working with the Langley Chamber of Commerce to bring more people to the city is one option, while working with the Langley Main Street Association to make it more vibrant for the people living in it was another.
Beusch said both tourists and long-term residents are important to the city as both pay state taxes and contribute to the vitality of Langley. He added that he also wouldn’t necessarily prioritize one or the other.
“We need to celebrate the fact that we are a tourist city and welcome those folks and hope that they come back for all the events that bring them to the island in the first place,” Beusch said.
Langley’s sewer treatment system currently serves about 60 percent of the residents and businesses. The city is currently considering extending sewer services to Freeland to maximize its utilization and potentially lower costs. Morton and Korrow felt gathering facts and data were necessary before jumping into it, while Morton also added that it would be important to provide sewer services to those who currently do not have it before going elsewhere. Beusch said it represented a good opportunity to drive additional revenue and offset costs, though he didn’t see it as a viable long-term solution.
Gill found the idea intriguing, but he currently lives in the part of the city that is unserved by the sewer. He felt it would be shortsighted to make a commitment to Freeland without first resolving the service issues in Langley.
Morton said Langley should continue pursuing the possibilities of tiny houses and accessory dwelling units to help support the expansion of affordable housing options. He said Habitat for Humanity’s upcoming 10-house development project on Third Street are among Langley’s “valid experiments” that should continue.
Korrow, who co-developed Langley’s housing community called Upper Langley, said the city is currently missing housing for the middle class workforce such as school teachers, business owners and those who can’t afford to buy a $500,000 home.
“I think it’s important to have an organization who can manage the affordability component and that’s a very important piece of it,” Korrow said. “When things are held in perpetual affordability, we need a third party to manage that.”
They also discussed establishing a safe injection facility in Langley to combat unsafe opioid addictions, removing road blocks for development, mandating minimum wage and making sewer hookup fees more transparent.
Anthony Tobias, a new Langley resident, said after the meeting that he felt the candidates were fairly similar in their responses. He said he found it difficult to walk with away with a clear cut choice for which candidates will get his votes.
“I look forward to hearing more of their back stories and seeing what their websites have to say to see where the real differences are,” Tobias said. “I found them all to be very articulate. I’d be happy with any of them.”