July 28, 1995 in Nation/World

County Puts Taxes To A Vote Voters Will Be Able To Decide Merit Of Two Environmental Taxes Called Essential To Land Management

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane County voters in September could repeal $2.2 million in environmental taxes.

The downside is that some say the taxes are essential for acquiring sensitive lands and managing stormwater pollution and flooding.

County commissioners Steve Hasson and Phil Harris said Thursday they will put the taxes to an advisory vote Sept. 19. Commissioner George Marlton was unavailable for comment.

The conservation futures tax enacted Jan. 1, 1994, raises about $900,000 a year to buy and protect prime wildlife habitat and recreation lands. All county homeowners pay 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $6 per year for a $100,000 home.

The storm water service charge went into effect in early 1993 and generates $1.3 million a year from 45,000 homeowners and 5,000 businesses, churches and schools.

Only residents in developed parts of the unincorporated area - particularly the North Side and Spokane Valley - pay the $10-a-year charge. Non-residential customers pay more.

The money is earmarked for watershed planning, engineering and capital construction to better manage runoff from rain and snow.

That type of runoff is threatening homes on Browne Mountain and the entire Moran Prairie. Several other areas also experience flooding and erosion during storms or quick snow melts.

“It’s an extremely important $10, and it’s going to go a long ways toward taking care of problems,” said former Commissioner Pat Mummey. “When you’re in a community that’s growing, you have to care about these things.”

She and ex-Commissioner John McBride approved the measure in 1992 after a 10-year study by a citizens group.

Mummey and former Commissioner Skip Chilberg approved the conservation futures tax in 1993.

Hasson opposed both measures at the time because they were not put to a public vote. He said he supports the conservation tax, however.

The storm-water service charge is a different matter.

“It’s an offensive, intrusive, double-dipping tax,” Hasson said. “It’s not like we’re on a flood plain or anything.”

The double dip comes when developments are approved, he said. Builders are required to pay for stormwater drainage systems up front. Then residents are taxed again, Hasson said.

“I have a pledge with the public that if I was going to get into their back pocket, I would offer them a chance at the poll to tell me what they think,” he said.

Harris said he supports both taxes, but will let his constituents guide him.

“I’m getting input from people that they didn’t know they were paying the taxes,” he said. “I’d be surprised if both of them didn’t pass.”

Brenda Sims, the county’s stormwater utilities manager, said the tax is the only way to finance a comprehensive drainage strategy.

Several existing developments are not properly drained, she said, because they don’t have conducive topography - the right soils or the ability to take dry wells.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook about problems on Browne Mountain” in southeast Spokane, she said.

In the past 18 months, the county has logged 414 erosion-related complaints. On July 2 and 9, thunderstorms washed away landscaping and flooded basements on Browne Mountain.

The conservation futures tax already has paid for two key properties. The fund currently contains $884,000 and is being built up to buy a pair of million-dollar parcels, said Wyn Birkenthal, county parks and recreation manager.

“It’s our No. 1 mechanism of protecting open space and sensitive lands,” Birkenthal said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: YOUR TAXES AT WORK Spokane County’s conservation futures tax has been used to buy two prime properties since its enactment last year: 84 acres of old-growth cedar adjacent to Liberty Lake Park for $274,000. Purchase of the prime black-bear habitat creates a continuous hiking loop through the park with access to Liberty Creek. Eight acres at the far eastern corner of Palisades Park, west of Spokane, for $75,000. The parcel overlooks Indian Canyon Golf Course. Most of the tax revenues are being saved to buy two giant parcels priced in the million-dollar range: 760 acres in the Iller Creek drainage near the Ponderosa development in south Spokane Valley. The prime elk and deer habitat features two rare plant species and views of Steptoe Butte and the Valley. 3,400 feet of shoreline along Long Lake across from Tum Tum.

This sidebar appeared with the story: YOUR TAXES AT WORK Spokane County’s conservation futures tax has been used to buy two prime properties since its enactment last year: 84 acres of old-growth cedar adjacent to Liberty Lake Park for $274,000. Purchase of the prime black-bear habitat creates a continuous hiking loop through the park with access to Liberty Creek. Eight acres at the far eastern corner of Palisades Park, west of Spokane, for $75,000. The parcel overlooks Indian Canyon Golf Course. Most of the tax revenues are being saved to buy two giant parcels priced in the million-dollar range: 760 acres in the Iller Creek drainage near the Ponderosa development in south Spokane Valley. The prime elk and deer habitat features two rare plant species and views of Steptoe Butte and the Valley. 3,400 feet of shoreline along Long Lake across from Tum Tum.

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