April 9, 1995 in City

Either Way, County Will Never Be The Same Time Will Tell If Voters Made The Right Decision

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A generation from now, students of Spokane government will call the voters of 1995 visionaries.

Or knuckleheads.

It depends on the decisions voters make this year regarding two big issues - consolidation and Valley incorporation - and the wisdom of those decisions in a historical perspective.

“It’s a watershed year,” said freeholder Sue Kaun. “Whether we vote yes or we vote no (on either issue), we’ve made a decision about how we go forward.”

Valley residents will decide May 16 whether to form their own city. Residents countywide most likely will decide this fall whether to consolidate Spokane city and county (as well as the new Valley city, if one has been formed).

Either proposal would impact life from one end of the county to the other.

INCORPORATION

The May election will be the third time in five years Valley residents have tried to form a city. But it’s the first time the movement has been taken seriously by many of the region’s political leaders.

The county’s Boundary Review Board, for instance, gave its blessing to the proposal, after adjusting the boundaries to remove some open spaces and include more urban neighborhoods. The board opposed the two earlier proposals, which were rejected by wide margins at the polls.

Incorporation would give 73,000 Valley residents a mayor and city council to thank for wise decisions and to replace when things aren’t going well.

“We all like having our own elected officials so we can find them in the courthouse or on the telephone,” said Gary Lowe, director of the Washington Association of Counties.

Valley residents probably would pay higher taxes under incorporation than they now do - at least if the city of Spokane Valley followed the pattern of nearly every other city in Washington. In exchange, they could expect better parks and other urban services.

It’s not just Valley residents who would feel the change if incorporation passes.

“Spokane County is facing a $10 million loss in revenue just in one fell swoop,” said Terry Novak, former Spokane city manager. “That’s going to be really hard to adjust to.”

That $10 million estimate is based on a 1994 Boundary Review Board study. It is the difference between what the county collects in the Valley and what it spends there.

The loss could mean streets on the West Plains, the North Side and in other unincorporated areas are plowed and swept less often. It could mean the sale of some county parks that already are crumbling from lack of maintenance.

Exact impacts wouldn’t be known until county commissioners start making cuts. The blow would be softer if the Spokane Valley City Council decided to pay the county to sweep streets and provide police and other services.

CONSOLIDATION

The consolidation election isn’t scheduled, but most likely will be this autumn.

If the issue passes, the city of Spokane and county government will disappear. A regional government with an elected executive and county council will replace them.

The consolidated government would include the Valley, erasing the new city if one has been formed. So it’s no surprise that incorporation boosters have promised consolidation backers “the fight of your life.”

“There’s this almost paranoid fear (in the Valley) that they’re going to be dominated by the city” of Spokane, said Bob Herold, an Eastern Washington University professor of government.

The consolidation plan was written by 25 Spokane County freeholders, who were elected in 1992 to study government and suggest improvements. Supporters say it would make government more efficient and give county residents better political representation.

Originally touted as a cost-cutting measure, consolidation actually would cause initial tax increases in the Valley and other suburbs, according to a recent study conducted by the freeholders. The money would go toward improving services in those suburbs.

Freeholders who support the plan say it ultimately would create savings by eliminating duplication between the city and the county.

Herold said it’s just as likely the bigger government could create “super bureaucracies” that are more costly in the long run.

“However, it may be a more effective government in the long run. It may be more responsive,” said Herold. “There are a lot of reasons to do this other than saving money.”

Novak said a consolidated government would end bickering between local jurisdictions, which uses up “an enormous amount of time and energy.”

A consolidated government would have more influence in Olympia, he said, and could make the community more attractive to businesses considering a move to the Northwest. There would be one community of nearly 400,000 instead of a city with some 200,000 residents and that many more scattered around its borders.

“It’s mostly psychological,” Novak said. “We would be the size of Salt Lake City…. We’d start to stand out as a major city in the West.”

Bob Cooper of the Economic Development Council said a community’s size isn’t the biggest concern to incoming businesses. They look for places where regulations are consistent and the bureaucracy is streamlined, he said.

“If consolidation will provide that, then that’s fine with us.”

MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER How would Valley incorporation work? What are the steps that will have to be taken for the county to consolidate? Here’s a summary of the two proposals.

INCORPORATION Would form the city of Spokane Valley. Date of election: May 16 Who votes: Residents of the proposed city. Requirements for passage: Simple majority; no minimum turnout. Population: 73,000 Government structure: Seven council members; “strong” mayor with authority to veto council decisions. Taxing authority: Could impose a utility tax and a business tax, neither of which can be levied against Valley residents now. Most cities use the utility tax; few Eastern Washington cities use the business tax.

CONSOLIDATION Would eliminate Spokane city and county (as well as the city of Spokane Valley, if one is formed) and replace them with a single government. The county’s 10 small towns would remain independent. Date of election: Not yet set, probably in fall. Who votes: Any eligible voter from Spokane County or any of its cities. Requirements for passage: Simple majority; no minimum turnout. Population: 363,851 Government structure: Thirteen council members elected by districts of about 30,000 people each; An executive elected countywide with the authority of a strong mayor. Taxing authority: Same as the proposed Valley city. SOURCE: Staff research by Dan Hansen Staff graphic

2. EDITOR’S NOTE Valley incorporation and Spokane city-county consolidation would affect taxes, services and political representation throughout the county. Many effects won’t be known unless the proposals pass and newly elected officials start making decisions. Others are known upfront. Here’s what residents can expect in Spokane, the Valley, small towns and unincorporated areas.

SPOKANE

Valley Incorporation Tax rates wouldn’t change. City residents might see a jump in collection rates if the Valley city decided to ship its trash somewhere other than the regional trash incinerator. Those who buy cars and other products in the Valley would help fund the new city through the sales tax, just as Valley residents who shop in Spokane help fund city government. The county would have less money for regional services that benefit city and county residents alike. Examples include courts, jails and planning that is required under the Growth Management Act. Less of the money Spokane residents pay to the county would go toward services city residents typically don’t use. That includes parks and law enforcement in the Valley, which are funded with the county’s general fund. Cities would get slightly less state money for road work. About 1 percent of the gasoline tax is set aside for cities; the more cities there are, the less each receives.

Consolidation Tax rates probably would not change. Funding for regional services would be protected. Closest political representation would be a 13-member council making decisions for the entire county, rather than the seven-member council that serves only the city of Spokane. Council members would be elected by district, including six and part of a seventh in what is now the city.

VALLEY

Valley incorporation They would no longer pay the county road tax, which costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $200. Instead, they would pay a tax set by the Valley’s City Council. In every Spokane County city except Millwood, the municipal property tax is higher than the county road tax. Residents in most of the state’s 10 largest cities pay a utility tax Valley residents currently don’t pay. Sales tax collected in the Valley would stay in the Valley. Closest political representation would be a seven-member council making decisions for 73,000 people, rather than the three-member board of county commissioners that governs nearly 400,000 people. Valley residents would gain representation on the growth management steering committee and other regional panels. State troopers no longer would patrol Trent and Pines roads and other state highways within the boundaries of the city. County would have less money to spend on courts and other regional services.

Consolidation Residents in suburban areas almost certainly would pay the utility tax now levied in Spokane. They would have better services in urban areas of the Valley. The number of police per resident would equal the rate in Spokane. Funding for parks would increase eight-fold. Closest political representation would be a 13-member county council, rather than the three-member commission. Members would be elected by district, including two and part of a third within the boundaries of the proposed city.

RURAL AREAS

Residents of rural and suburban unincorporated areas (including Valley neighborhoods left out of the proposed city).

Valley incorporation They would suffer the most from cuts in the county budget. There would be less money for parks and maintaining roads, for instance. Sheriff’s department would be severely cut if the new city decided to form its own police department. The Valley Fire District and Spokane County Library District would face similar cuts if the city decided to withdraw from those districts. County taxes would not increase because they’re already at the legal maximum. Collection fees could increase if the Valley city decides to take its trash somewhere other than the regional incinerator. Schools would not be affected.

Consolidation Fire districts and the county library district, which serve unincorporated areas, no longer would lose territory and taxes to Spokane annexations. Residents of suburban areas likely would pay the utility tax now paid by city residents. They also would get better services, including more police. Parks funding would increase eightfold. Closest political representation would be a 13-member council rather than the three-member commission. Council members would be elected by districts, including three that primarily cover rural areas and small towns.

SMALL TOWNS

Valley incorporation Spokane County would have less money to spend on regional services and on roads leading to towns. Towns would get less money from the state gasoline tax, since there would be one more city with which to split the money. The town of Millwood would share boundaries with the new city and could not grow without crossing the Spokane River.

Consolidation Towns would remain independent unless they chose to join the consolidated government. Small town residents would help elect members of the county council. Regional services, like courts and county parks, would have more secure funding.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER How would Valley incorporation work? What are the steps that will have to be taken for the county to consolidate? Here’s a summary of the two proposals.

INCORPORATION Would form the city of Spokane Valley. Date of election: May 16 Who votes: Residents of the proposed city. Requirements for passage: Simple majority; no minimum turnout. Population: 73,000 Government structure: Seven council members; “strong” mayor with authority to veto council decisions. Taxing authority: Could impose a utility tax and a business tax, neither of which can be levied against Valley residents now. Most cities use the utility tax; few Eastern Washington cities use the business tax.

CONSOLIDATION Would eliminate Spokane city and county (as well as the city of Spokane Valley, if one is formed) and replace them with a single government. The county’s 10 small towns would remain independent. Date of election: Not yet set, probably in fall. Who votes: Any eligible voter from Spokane County or any of its cities. Requirements for passage: Simple majority; no minimum turnout. Population: 363,851 Government structure: Thirteen council members elected by districts of about 30,000 people each; An executive elected countywide with the authority of a strong mayor. Taxing authority: Same as the proposed Valley city. SOURCE: Staff research by Dan Hansen Staff graphic

2. EDITOR’S NOTE Valley incorporation and Spokane city-county consolidation would affect taxes, services and political representation throughout the county. Many effects won’t be known unless the proposals pass and newly elected officials start making decisions. Others are known upfront. Here’s what residents can expect in Spokane, the Valley, small towns and unincorporated areas.

SPOKANE

Valley Incorporation Tax rates wouldn’t change. City residents might see a jump in collection rates if the Valley city decided to ship its trash somewhere other than the regional trash incinerator. Those who buy cars and other products in the Valley would help fund the new city through the sales tax, just as Valley residents who shop in Spokane help fund city government. The county would have less money for regional services that benefit city and county residents alike. Examples include courts, jails and planning that is required under the Growth Management Act. Less of the money Spokane residents pay to the county would go toward services city residents typically don’t use. That includes parks and law enforcement in the Valley, which are funded with the county’s general fund. Cities would get slightly less state money for road work. About 1 percent of the gasoline tax is set aside for cities; the more cities there are, the less each receives.

Consolidation Tax rates probably would not change. Funding for regional services would be protected. Closest political representation would be a 13-member council making decisions for the entire county, rather than the seven-member council that serves only the city of Spokane. Council members would be elected by district, including six and part of a seventh in what is now the city.

VALLEY

Valley incorporation They would no longer pay the county road tax, which costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $200. Instead, they would pay a tax set by the Valley’s City Council. In every Spokane County city except Millwood, the municipal property tax is higher than the county road tax. Residents in most of the state’s 10 largest cities pay a utility tax Valley residents currently don’t pay. Sales tax collected in the Valley would stay in the Valley. Closest political representation would be a seven-member council making decisions for 73,000 people, rather than the three-member board of county commissioners that governs nearly 400,000 people. Valley residents would gain representation on the growth management steering committee and other regional panels. State troopers no longer would patrol Trent and Pines roads and other state highways within the boundaries of the city. County would have less money to spend on courts and other regional services.

Consolidation Residents in suburban areas almost certainly would pay the utility tax now levied in Spokane. They would have better services in urban areas of the Valley. The number of police per resident would equal the rate in Spokane. Funding for parks would increase eight-fold. Closest political representation would be a 13-member county council, rather than the three-member commission. Members would be elected by district, including two and part of a third within the boundaries of the proposed city.

RURAL AREAS

Residents of rural and suburban unincorporated areas (including Valley neighborhoods left out of the proposed city).

Valley incorporation They would suffer the most from cuts in the county budget. There would be less money for parks and maintaining roads, for instance. Sheriff’s department would be severely cut if the new city decided to form its own police department. The Valley Fire District and Spokane County Library District would face similar cuts if the city decided to withdraw from those districts. County taxes would not increase because they’re already at the legal maximum. Collection fees could increase if the Valley city decides to take its trash somewhere other than the regional incinerator. Schools would not be affected.

Consolidation Fire districts and the county library district, which serve unincorporated areas, no longer would lose territory and taxes to Spokane annexations. Residents of suburban areas likely would pay the utility tax now paid by city residents. They also would get better services, including more police. Parks funding would increase eightfold. Closest political representation would be a 13-member council rather than the three-member commission. Council members would be elected by districts, including three that primarily cover rural areas and small towns.

SMALL TOWNS

Valley incorporation Spokane County would have less money to spend on regional services and on roads leading to towns. Towns would get less money from the state gasoline tax, since there would be one more city with which to split the money. The town of Millwood would share boundaries with the new city and could not grow without crossing the Spokane River.

Consolidation Towns would remain independent unless they chose to join the consolidated government. Small town residents would help elect members of the county council. Regional services, like courts and county parks, would have more secure funding.


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