When Ray Bradley and his wife built their dream home on the Spokane River seven years ago, the tax man said it was worth $112,000 and the annual property tax bill was $1,800.
This year, the same home commands a $337,000 valuation and a $5,800 tax bill, Bradley told the City Council on Thursday night. If the trend continues, it means that by the time Bradley retires in the year 2010, his home will have an assessed valuation of $15.5 million and the taxes will cost $277,000 a year, he said.
No one expects property values and taxes to grow quite that phenomenally, and Bradley doesn’t live in the city limits. But the certified public accountant’s dissatisfaction with his fiscal fate is typical of those who put the city’s proposed $33.5 million budget under the microscope at the budget hearing.
“Please try to be frugal and stop spending,” Bradley said.
John Barlow, of Concerned Businesses of North Idaho, was more pointed. He noted that city property tax revenue increased 42 percent between 1989 and 1994, while the population only increased 18 percent, average per capita income increased 26 percent, and the cost of living went up 23 percent.
“There’s no justification for the increase,” Barlow said. And the total city spending increase is higher, considering all sources of revenue, Barlow said.
Elected officials focus on how much they can raise taxes “and still get elected,” he said.
Councilwoman Dixie Reid took offense at Barlow’s barb, saying she has never taken such an approach. Councilman Kevin Packard said the 42 percent increase makes sense when growth and inflation are considered.
Pat Raffee, executive director of Concerned Businesses, also asked the council to cut spending. Charge the real cost of police protection for parades and special events instead of subsidizing those events, she suggested.
Raffee even gave the council a copy of Seattle’s blueprint for recovering its police costs at parades.
Council members did their own scrutinizing of spending, questioning travel and training budgets, the cost of getting parks employees certified to handle pesticides and even the price of maintaining the grassy strip in the center of Ramsey Road.
One citizen, Rob Keenan, complimented the council and lamented the fact that the mayor and council decided not to spend $30,000 on raises for themselves. “I know you have a very difficult responsibility,” Keenan said.
The council has scheduled additional public hearings on the budget next Tuesday and Thursday at 5:15 p.m. in City Hall. The budget will be adopted Sept. 5.