The chairwoman of the Yakima Planning Commission, a school board member and a retired funeral director/911 dispatcher are vying to replace Yakima City Councilwoman Carmen Mendez.

Planning Commission member Patricia Byers, Yakima School Board member Berenice L. Ponce and Thomas B. Sund are running for the council’s District 3 seat, which encompasses the south-central part of the city. Mendez chose not to seek another term on the council.

The three are coming on at a time when the city is working through budget issues that involve cuts to the fire and police departments, as well as friction among council members.

Council members are paid $1,075 a month for their service, unless they have been appointed as mayor or assistant mayor, which increases the salary to $1,375 and $1,175 respectively. Under Yakima’s form of government, the mayor serves as the presiding officer of the council.

Patricia Byers

What is the biggest challenge Yakima faces, and how will you address it?

One of the biggest challenges is the budget, because we do have a deficit budget. Reserves are not up to 16 percent, so we have to pay a higher amount of interest on bonds. We need to bring our reserves up to the full 16 percent so we can pay less on bonds. The next would be public safety. We need to make sure our police department is fully staffed and assist our new police chief, whose primary focus is on the reduction of violent crime in the city. We need to make sure our fire department is fully staffed and equipped.

What can the city do to further address gang violence?

I know the city has invested some time and energy on this, and has a grant and is doing a pilot program with the schools. I would like to see the city develop larger partnerships with people who have knowledge, time and expertise to devote to that.

What would be your budget priorities in terms of spending? Where should cuts be made?

In terms of spending right now, it would be public safety. I would include in that any work in the police department, fire department and gang intervention. I would also include public infrastructure, such as roads, lighting and working on our sidewalks. Until I am able to see what things are in the budget right now, I would not feel comfortable answering that question about cuts. Hard decisions need to be made, but I am not in a position to make them right now.

What will you do as a council member to foster community cohesion and cooperation?

I think that needs to happen at the council level. I think because of who I am as a person and the life experience and work I have done, I can come in and listen to people and we can work together for positive results. In addition, I would like to help the council find ways for other people to come in and have more communication with the people in our community. I would like to see more forums at days and times when people can come in so we can hear their ideas.

Berenice L. Ponce

What is the biggest challenge Yakima faces, and how will you address it?

I believe it would be the state of the budget. There have already been great efforts at replenishing the reserves of the city budget, and I support that work. There have been cuts by the City Council, cuts people do not want to see. That is going to be the biggest challenge for the council moving forward. I think the council is going to have to work closely with a new city manager to create a strategic plan for replenishing the reserves without cutting into services that are vital to the city.

What can the city do to further address gang violence?

There has been great work done by the city. It received a grant for the (Gang Reduction and Intervention Task Force) program. I have seen issues with how the grant was set up and the program rolled out, though. I would continue to apply for grants to continue the gang intervention program. There should be education in the community and school system to understand why youths seek gang involvement. I believe community policing is going to change the way people have a relationship with law enforcement. It is going to improve, and that is going to address gang and gun violence. I think it is also very important to support programs that support youth.

What would be your budget priorities in terms of spending? Where should cuts be made?

Public safety is a priority, and that is where most of the budget is going. One of the things that I do believe is also a priority is to find a permanent solution for people who are experiencing homelessness. My first approach to cuts would be to direct the city manager to take a look at the structure of all city employees and try to understand where the money is being spent, and possibly take some of the duties from directors that are highly paid and consolidate positions in all departments.

What will you do as a council member to foster community cohesion and cooperation?

I would continue to hold community events and perhaps meet people where they’re at, even if that means holding forums in the evening or in other locations. Look at events that have been held in the day, such as meeting the police officers in the district. It is hard to get out of work for an hour to attend a community forum.

Thomas B. Sund

What is the biggest challenge Yakima faces, and how will you address it?

The budget. We’re operating in a deficit, and the deficit is increasing with the interest we are paying on bonds and loans. I am a strong proponent of public safety issues, particularly with the fire department, police department and Suncomm (Yakima’s 911 dispatch center). I would address it by carefully looking at what options are available to pay those bonds off and other sources of revenue that are available for the city of Yakima.

What can the city do to further address gang violence?

More support for law enforcement from the community, increased gang patrols, and for the current City Council and outgoing city manager to be more cooperative in their relationship with the police department.

What would be your budget priorities in terms of spending? Where should cuts be made?

I would like to see the city pay off some of the deficit so we would have some money available and look for ways to find revenue to offset that. I don’t have an answer to that because there are so many things we need. I don’t want cuts in police department, fire department, 911. I see improvements in streets and sidewalks as a priority. If cuts need to be made, we must look internally. By bringing the deficit down, we would have more funds available.

What will you do as a council member to foster community cohesion and cooperation?

I’m personable, I’m sensible and I am running on a theme of common sense. I would like to see unity within the council. There are going to be complex issues ahead of us, whether we go to a mayor form of government or hire another city manager and an assistant city manager. I would like to see the council more transparent, see more open communication and I am learning from (going door to door) that people are looking for honesty and integrity, and they are looking to be heard.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist/