Freeholders’ Job Ends With Charter 50-Page Local Constitution Will Go On Nov. 7 Ballot

Spokane County freeholders, who were elected 2 years ago to make government better, finished their work Thursday.

The final product: a 50-page charter - in effect, a local constitution - that would create one government to replace the Spokane City Council and County Commission. City boundaries would disappear.

There is no similar government in Washington and only 28 “unigovs” in the 3,000 counties nationwide.

The charter must be approved by voters. County commissioners say they will place it on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The 25 freeholders do not unanimously support the charter.

Six were absent for Thursday’s vote. Six others said they will send a minority report to county commissioners. That report will suggest giving voters a choice between full consolidation and two less dramatic alternatives.

Some who plan to sign the minority report were swayed by a financial analysis that showed taxes would have to increase in the Valley if the two governments merge. Most of the extra money would go toward services in the Valley.

Others said they don’t think voters will approve the document. Some critics, especially those in rural areas, complain they won’t be fairly represented by a consolidated government.

“I don’t think this board has listened to the rural citizens,” said freeholder Kathleen Nuffer.

Like Olympia or Washington, D.C., the consolidated government would have separate executive and legislative branches.

Voters would elect 13 council members to represent districts with about 30,000 residents each. Voters countywide would elect an executive.

The executive could veto council decisions. The council could override a veto if nine of its members vote to do so.

No more Valley incorporation votes will be allowed if the charter passes: It prohibits new cities from forming.

Freeholder Al Lewis thinks that might make the charter popular with voters, who have watched three incorporation elections fail at the polls. The most recent attempt was last week.

“I know this (consolidation proposal) is what helped defeat the Valley incorporation vote,” Lewis said.

Existing small towns would remain independent until they grow to more than 10 percent of the county’s population. At that point, they would automatically become part of the consolidated government.

Currently, there is no town anywhere near that threshold. The largest, Cheney, has about 8,200 residents, roughly 2 percent of the county population.

All city and county agencies, including the police and sheriff’s department, would merge.

The charter includes 16 pages guiding the transition from two governments to one. It calls for the election of the executive and council next March and for the new government to take over on May 1, 1996.

xxxx Charter plan Here’s what to expect if voters approve the charter written by Spokane County freeholders: Spokane city boundaries will disappear, and Spokane city and county governments will dissolve. Small towns will remain independent. No new towns will be allowed to form. A 13-member council and executive will replace the City Council and County Commission. Part-time council members will be elected by districts of about 30,000 people each. The full-time executive will be elected countywide. All city and county agencies, including the sheriff’s and police departments, will merge.

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