November 5, 1995

Charter Brings New Positions

 

Question: Other than the elected executive and 13-member council, what positions would the charter create? What would be their responsibilities?

Answer: The prosecutor would be elected, as required by state law. But an appointed attorney would become the council’s legal adviser and would represent the city-county government when it is sued.

An appointed police chief would replace the city chief and the county sheriff. Appointed officials would replace the coroner, treasurer, auditor and assessor.

An independent examiner, who would conduct performance reviews of government agencies, would answer to a committee comprised of three council members, three council appointees and the executive.

Q: Who would appoint the police chief, treasurer, coroner and other administrative officials? How many of those department heads are now protected by civil service?

A: The elected executive would make political appointments, subject to approval by the city-county council.

Department heads are not protected by civil service. Those who are not elected can be hired or fired at will by the City Council and county commission.

Q: Will the combination of the two governments be called a municipality?

A: It could impose taxes used by cities, including the utility tax, which counties cannot impose.

But state law is not clear about the proposed government’s status for receiving state money, said Spokane city finance Director Pete Fortin.

When the state calculates disbursements from the gas tax, it gives more money for each person living in unincorporated areas than it does for people living in cities. So, if the city disappeared, Spokane’s share of the gas tax would climb.

Other counties likely would complain about Spokane cutting into their share of the money.

But if the new government is considered a city of nearly 400,000 people, it could get more money from the state liquor tax and vehicle excise tax. Other cities probably would complain that much of the county actually is rural, not urban, and therefore not eligible for a big jump in these taxes.

Fortin said the Legislature would have to settle the matter, possibly by telling Spokane to designate an urban boundary considered “city” for the purposes of state allocations, Fortin said.

Q: Does the charter address current zoning laws or the daytime noise limits? Would city regulations be extended to nearby urban areas?

A: The charter says that all ordinances would remain as they are until they’re amended or repealed by the city-county council. So, nothing would change immediately.

If voters approve the charter, officials would have to review every city and county ordinance. The council would have to change those that aren’t appropriate for the new government.

Q: Will all the cities in Spokane County lose their city governments and become part of one big government?

A: The city and county would merge; the 10 small towns would remain independent.

Q: Would Spokane’s name change? Would addresses change?

A: The charter refers to the proposed new government as Spokane City-County. It’s not clear whether that name is mandatory, or if voters or the council could call it something else.

Other consolidated communities use that term or unigov or something similar.

But all of them include the name of the former city and the former county. Normally that creates an unwieldy name like Lexington-Fayette (Ky.) Urban County Government.

Spokane would avoid the problem because its city and county share a name.

Regardless of what the government is called, addresses would not change, according to U.S. Postal Service officials.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: SECTION = THE PUZZLING QUESTION OF CONSOLIDATION

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