Drive into the city of Snoqualmie and the paradoxes leap out at you. On one end lies the new urban village of Snoqualmie Ridge, filled with...

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Drive into the city of Snoqualmie and the paradoxes leap out at you.

On one end lies the new urban village of Snoqualmie Ridge, filled with young families, while a neighborhood of aging homes sits only a few miles away. A pristine golf course on the Ridge drew a recent PGA tournament; downtown, worn storefronts dot the city’s main thoroughfare.

The disparate elements provide a glimpse into the unique story of Snoqualmie’s past and its future as a key growth area in this fall’s primary battle for mayor.

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Three candidates — City Councilman Matt Larson and Ridge residents Michael Lewandowski and James “Greg” Harrelson — are running in the Sept. 20 primary to fill the seat that will be vacated in December by Fuzzy Fletcher, who will resign after serving eight years.

Fletcher oversaw a surge of development that made Snoqualmie the fastest-growing city in King County. The growth was at the Ridge, a master-planned community built under a “live, work, play” concept. Thousands have flocked to the new homes, and in five years the city’s population has jumped from 1,631 in 2000 to an estimated 6,345 in 2005, according to recent figures from the Office of Financial Management. About 75 percent of the city’s population lives there now. And more Ridge homes are on the way.

While the new residents have generated more property taxes, the city is facing a budget shortfall of more than $2 million by 2009-10 because of its heavy reliance on one-time revenues from the development and growth.

James “Greg” Harrelson, 43

Residence: Snoqualmie Ridge

Occupation: Group program manager at Microsoft

Personal: Married for 19 years; 13-year-old son

Background: Never held office

Top three endorsements: Four businesses, including Dr. Brian Mayer of River Tree Dental Center and Wendy Thomas and Bryan Woolsey of Carmichael’s True Value Hardware; several residents, including longtime resident Gloria McNeely, board member of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society

Campaign Web site:

Michael Lewandowski, 48

Residence: Snoqualmie Ridge

Occupation: Technical marketing engineer at Cisco Systems in Seattle

Personal: Single; no children

Background: Never held office

Top three endorsements: None listed

Campaign Web site:

Matt Larson, 44

Residence: Snoqualmie Ridge

Occupation: Residential architect; stay-at-home dad

Personal: Married for 20 years with four children

Background: Elected to City Council in 2001 for four-year term. Served on the parks board from fall 1999 to summer of 2000 and was on the planning commission from summer 2000 to December 2001. Served as chairman of Public Works Committee and member of Community Relations Committee from 2002 and 2003. Was also chairman of Finance and Administration Committee and member of Planning and Parks Committee from 2004 to present

Top three endorsements: Six members of the Snoqualmie City Council; Duane Johnson of the Planning Commission; three members of the Parks Board

Campaign Web site:

The changing dynamics, which have turned this former mill town into an upscale bedroom community, have brought out three key issues: public safety, bolstering city coffers, and revitalizing a fading downtown.

Here’s a look at each candidate’s background and plan for Snoqualmie:

James “Greg” Harrelson

The 43-year-old is a group program manager at Microsoft. Although he has never held office, he decided to run for mayor because he “was upset with a lot of things going on in the community.”

One was the possibility Snoqualmie would outsource its police services to King County. As in most cities, the Police Department accounts for the biggest single expenditure in the budget, and this spring the City Council looked at doing away with its Police Department as a way to cut costs.

The issue generated a storm of community protest. Harrelson said he’s against outsourcing because long-term, it would prove more expensive.

“King County will only sign one-year contracts, and if in two or three years [the county] decides to jack the prices, where does that leave us?”

Also critical to Snoqualmie’s future is bringing life to its downtown, he said. Making small improvements here and there — such as weeding the historic train-depot site and putting up nice-looking, informative signs — can attract more businesses and give the tourists who come to visit Snoqualmie Falls reason to hang around, he said.

The city recently received a report from a tourism consultant saying that Snoqualmie has enormous potential as a tourist destination because of assets such as the waterfall and its proximity to Seattle.

“The downtown is as important as the Ridge, because that’s where all the tourism goes,” Harrelson said. “Nobody is coming to the Ridge as a tourism stop.”

Matt Larson

Larson, 44, is a residential architect and was elected to the City Council in 2001. A stay-at-home dad, Larson also lives on the Ridge. Among his priorities are fiscal responsibility, public safety and growth control.

Larson said it’s crucial to look at different economic strategies because 30 percent of the city’s current operational budget depends on one-time revenues that will disappear five years after the Ridge is built out.

“I do not want to be in a situation where we desperately need revenue and then bring in big-box retail,” he said. “It would be a tragedy to have Snoqualmie turned into Anytown, America.”

Instead, he listed three ways to get control of the fiscal challenges: having voter-approved tax increases; cutting costs and reducing levels of service; and increasing the revenue/tax base through more retail and commercial growth.

He said he’s also against contracting with King County for police services but that as a councilman it’s his duty to “do due diligence on costs.”

Larson is also interested in looking at potential uses for the old Snoqualmie Falls Lumber site, such as putting in a waste-to-energy plant.

“I’m intrigued by it,” he said. “It fits into the ethos of Snoqualmie. … It makes landfills look like the caveman days.”

Michael Lewandowski

Lewandowski, 48, is a technical marketing engineer at Cisco Systems in Seattle. He’s a political newcomer but has been attending council meetings for six years, he said. He decided to run for mayor because “I love my little town of Snoqualmie.”

His top concerns for the city include increasing tourism, retaining the Police Department and looking at various avenues to cut costs.

More than 1 million people visit Snoqualmie Falls every year, he said.

“There is so much we could be drawing from.”

If elected, part of his plan would include working with city staff to determine 50 to 75 of the least-expensive and quickest changes to help beautify downtown and then appoint a staff member to complete them all in a reasonable time. For example, friendly signage on Highway 202 between the falls and North Bend’s outlet mall could generate more visitors to downtown Snoqualmie, he said.

“It’s a way to connect the dots,” he said.

He also said the city’s staff budget “needs to be scrutinized and trimmed.” He would enlist the help of an independent firm with experience in city finances to suggest the most practical and least painful cuts.

He stressed he’d be open to promoting not just his agenda.

“If there’s another path that we need to follow then, as mayor, I won’t be dead set on an issue,” he said.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or