Just hours after the general election was certified, Leah Daarud took her oath of office and attended her first meeting as the newest member on the Centralia City Council on Tuesday.
She fills an at-large seat left vacant by former councilor Peter Abbarno, who left earlier this year to serve in the Legislature. The seat was temporarily filled up until this week by Councilor Mark Westley, who will formally take office in January after winning departing Councilor Sue Luond’s seat earlier this month.
An assistant planner at Lewis County Community Development and a former member of the Centralia Planning Commission, Daarud said she felt right at home Tuesday night conducting business alongside the other councilors.
“I was comfortable because of my history on the planning commission. I felt like I fit right in. Sitting there is much easier than the campaign trail,” she told The Chronicle.
Westley and Councilor-elect Sarah Althauser sat in the audience that night as the council discussed topics including property annexation, biennium budget amendments and a proposal to install a restroom facility downtown near the train depot.
“I’m very happy to have Leah come on our council. I think she’ll be bringing a different perspective, some great ideas. She’s already very busy in our community, on the planning commission, so I think she’ll be a great fit,” said Mayor Max Vogt.
Reached by phone this week, Abbarno said Daarud was a “quick study” on city issues, and he congratulated her and everyone who got elected this election cycle.
For the next two years, Daarud will represent all voters of the city in her at-large seat. Prior to working for the county, she worked for a decade in the behavioral health care field. Her goal over the length of her term is to “listen to stakeholders, to people in the community and advocate for them,” she said.
Over the length of the campaign trail, Daarud said her priorities changed slightly as she listened to voters’ thoughts and perspectives while doorbelling. She touted her “constitutional, practical, responsible and compassionate” policy ideals in letters to the editor and during debates, also mentioning her priority to “advocate for fiscal responsibility” and not raise taxes.
Those ideals were put to the test Tuesday as the council voted, during a second and final reading, on a 1.6% levy increase on assessed value for Centralia property owners. Revenue generated next year from the banked tax increase will help supplement revenue lost during the pandemic that was paying off expensive firefighter pensions and LEOFF 1 medical coverage, which some years costs the city more than $400,000.
Daarud voted against the proposed increase, though it passed 5-1. Next year’s levy amount of 58.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on a property will still be considerably lower than other general levy rates in the area. Chehalis, for example, collects almost quadruple that amount.
“I think there’s some other areas that could possibly be explored,” Daarud said after the meeting, echoing concerns she heard from taxpayers about raising taxes.