First the Spokane City Council supported Conservation Futures, then it didn’t.
At the start of Monday, a majority of the Spokane City Council leaned in favor of accepting Spokane County’s offer to purchase the Riverfront Park YMCA, according to an e-mail Councilman Steve Corker sent to a constituent.
By the end of the day, however, the majority was lost.
So what happened?
It appears Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley successfully convinced at least one council member at a Monday meeting about the Y that a “third option” for paying off the city’s $4.4 million debt was better than using county Conservation Futures property taxes or development proposals that the city received late last month.
That third option isn’t yet defined, but, Cooley said, it could include higher hotel taxes, selling off park land or asking voters for more property taxes. He also reminded council members that the city once had a business and occupation tax to help pay for Expo ’74 improvements.
Responding to an e-mail from constituent Dawn Holladay, Councilman Steve Corker wrote on Monday afternoon: “I am in favor of using Conservation Futures monies for this site. I plan on voting the same this evening.”
(Not that the City Council could have voted for anything at the YMCA meeting because it was scheduled only for discussion.)
After Cooley’s presentation at the meeting, Corker appeared to have changed his mind.
“The one issue we need to resolve today is to say no to the county – that we’re going to solve this problem within our internal resources and our internal vision,” he said.
When Council President Joe Shogan pointed out that a final decision could not be made in the meeting Corker added: “There is a consensus developing that has answered one question, and that’s the use of conservation funds. Once we take that out of the picture, then I think we’re in a position to take advantage of new park leadership, new park vision and some of the ideas that give me a larger vision than just a lousy building or an overpaid open space.”
In an interview Wednesday, Corker says he still supports using Conservation Futures, but spoke the way he did because Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin surprised him in the meeting by voicing opposition to using the county money. With a majority of the council leaning against accepting the money, Corker said he felt the city should move forward and find a new solution.
McLaughlin said after being briefed on the proposals for private development on the YMCA site submitted by developers Mark Pinch and Ron Wells, she leaned in favor of accepting Conservation Futures money.
“If we had had no other options I actually was going to give a green light to the Conservation Futures,” McLaughlin said in an interview Wednesday. “I hadn’t heard anything that was very promising at that point.”
She said her opinion shifted when learning about Cooley’s proposal because it could spark a new conversation between the Park Board and City Council that will help create a better park and pay for the Y.
McLaughlin, who is considered the most conservative council member, said she would oppose a business and occupation tax to pay for the Y, but is open to a hotel tax “because it doesn’t tax local people most of the time.”