Rita Sanders, who will seek a second term as mayor of Bellevue Nov. 4, does not dance around the issue of taxes.
She has said repeatedly the city has done all it can to cut spending. It has eliminated positions and cut hours, she said, and the result is that no further spending cuts can be made without impacting services.
In a hyper-competitive economy, where cities compete with one another for new employers, reducing services reduces the likelihood that potential employers will consider Bellevue, she said.
Sanders, 56, said a better approach is to bring new business to Bellevue, which in turn will increase tax revenue. A stronger tax base will lower overall taxes while making it easier to maintain or improve services, she said.
Sanders, a Republican, pointed to encouraging signs that Bellevue’s economy is rebounding from difficulties experienced during the past decade.
A $22 million hotel and conference center complex to be built in the Twin Creek retail district, along with private purchase of a land at the intersection of Fort Crook and Cornhusker roads, are both indications of an economic recovery that will replenish tax coffers, she said.
Sanders said Lockwood Development, which has purchased the 33-acre Fort Crook Road site, plans to “move dirt” this year and to begin construction next spring on a commercial center.
She said the company has not yet identified its prospective tenants but have assured her that “it looks really good.”
“The way forward is economic development, not tax cuts that mean cuts in services,” Sanders said.
“Who would want to come here when services are being cut?”
Sanders said an improvement to Bellevue’s identity has been installation of bicycle lanes along Fort Crook Road. Though she is aware of public grumbling about the $270,000 project, of which the city paid $53,000, Sanders said bicycle lanes are a top requirement of modern companies looking for a location.
“First and foremost, that is the direction our society is going,” she said. “People want multiple modes of transportation.
“We have to think about the next 10 or 20 years, and when we have companies looking at Bellevue, one of their first five priorities is how many miles of bike trails and bike lanes we have.
“We have to have an answer for that.”
She said the cost of the project is offset by the reduced cost of resurfacing only just four lanes of Fort Crook Road instead of six, a savings she estimated at about $330,000 a year.
In addition, she said, studies show that traffic along Fort Crook Road no longer merits a six-lane highway and that the surplus two lanes were natural bike lanes.
Sanders said she believes she will lay out four years of achievement when voters go to the polls Nov. 4.
“We had a $5 million deficit when I took office, and that hole was going to be growing faster if we didn’t rein in our spending,” she said.
Sanders said her approach was to build relationships with department heads and make them responsible for bringing expenditures in line with city revenues.
“It was a team approach, and they responded,” she said. “They did a great job meeting their goals.” Sanders said she will carry that team approach into the field of economic development.
Assistant City Administrator Larry Burks was hired to lead Bellevue’s economic development efforts, she said, and together with Bellevue Chamber of Commerce President Jim Ristow and other civic leaders, she has worked to lay the foundations for an era of new economic growth in Bellevue.
“That’s the team approach I will use,” she said. “Not just within the City of Bellevue, but also with leaders on the city, county and federal levels.”