EDITOR'S NOTE: Contributing writer Ruairi Vaughan reached out to all three candidates running for Eatonville mayor. The third candidate, David Baublitz, did not respond to Vaughan's request for an interview.
Mike Schaub has always seen his role as mayor of Eatonville primarily in fiscal terms.
As town treasurer in 2013, he focused his first bid for elected office on promises to stabilize the town’s precarious financial straits.
“This was my way of being able to help out my community with my experience and background,” he said last week.
Since first being elected, Schaub has been laser focused on restoring the city’s fiscal fortunes. He is helped by the fact that, before becoming mayor, he had almost 20 years of experience in government finance as an accountant for the State of Washington.
"The reserves we had were minimal,” he recalled of the time he entered office. “One sewer line break could have put one of our utilities into financial crisis.”
He believes, however, after eight years, the town’s finances are much stronger.
“We’ve finally got ourselves to a good financial position,” Schaub said.
Schaub acknowledged that this project is incomplete — in fact, that is one of the main reasons he decided to run for a third term.
“Politics is not an area I’m comfortable in, but there’s work to be done with moving the town into the future,” he said.
One area Schaub looks forward to in coming years is putting Eatonville’s restored finances to work.
“We’ve finally got ourselves to a good financial position to be able to begin chipping away at projects that the town needs to begin working on.”
One project Schaub has his eye on is the street-scape project on Washington Avenue. He said it will “give our corridor into town a much-needed face lift with new lights and better sidewalks for pedestrian traffic.” The project began in 2006, but languished for lack of funding until recently.
Schaub’s opponents in this mayoral election claim that Eatonville has been too hard on businesses in recent years.
The mayor admitted that Eatonville can sometimes come across as anti-business but emphasized that the town’s leadership is very keen to work with businesses. He blames the city code for the town’s difficulties in creating new business opportunities.
“It’s out of date and needs to be updated,” Schaub said. “We’re aware of areas that need to be updated and are working on that now. It’s a process to work through. Sometimes you don’t realize that the code is out of date until you begin to try to apply it.”
Schaub warned, however, that creating a friendlier market for new firms is more than a matter of code reform, pointing to the lack of commercial land available in town. He believes that the key to helping Eatonville’s economy thrive is “getting the right kind of businesses to come in, businesses that recognize the kind of market this is.”
The summer’s recent heatwave showed that the next mayor will not only have to deal with investment in the town, but also larger issues like the impact of climate change.
Schaub’s biggest concern as mayor has been making sure that the town’s utilities are capable of handling the increased demand caused by extreme weather events.
One of the town’s most important achievements in recent months was installing a third filter in the water filtration plant — meaning that the plant now has the capacity to continue processing the town’s water during increased demand periods, such as those created by heatwaves.
“This time of year always stresses me out,” Schaub said, but he added that the updates to the water plant have relieved the pressure on the system.
Schaub also pointed to contingency plans that the town has put in place for extreme weather.
“We’re working with our community center getting a generator in so that we can handle the cooling center, even if power goes out,” Schaub said, adding in 50 years of living in Eatonville, he had never seen weather conditions like those of last month.
Of course, the weather events are not the only unprecedented emergencies Schaub has dealt with in his time as mayor.
Reflecting on Eatonville’s response to the onset of COVID-19, he said, “I thought the town did well, that the businesses and the people responded well.”
He cited the relatively low number of cases in south Pierce County. Schaub singled out the town’s small businesses for praise, saying the response of restaurants and shops to COVID-related restrictions was “very creative, which was very exciting to see.”
Schaub sees his main duty related to the pandemic as putting money from the CARES Act, and the more recent American Rescue Plan, “into the local economy, and into the hands of families and the community.”
Moving on from the problems he will have to work on if re-elected, Schaub enthusiastically talked about the best aspects of living in Eatonville.
“I love the small community aspect and the openness of the community,” he said. “You can walk down the street and everyone’s pleasant and welcoming.”
And the cherry on the cake to life Eatonville?
“Our view of Mount Rainier is the best view in all of Washington,” Schaub said.
Ballots for the primary election were sent out last week and must be returned by Aug. 3.