The Spokesman-Review


Consolidation’s Effect Varies By Location

SUNDAY, NOV. 5, 1995

Every registered voter in Spokane County can vote Tuesday on the unified city-county charter. But the effects of consolidation vary depending on where a person lives.

A Cheney resident, for instance, might notice little change, while someone living in the Spokane Valley would see big changes.

Here’s how consolidation would affect all corners of the county:

Rural areas

Of the 13 city-county council districts proposed in the charter, two are in rural areas and a third is mostly in the country. So, rural areas would control about 20 percent of the council.

The most powerful position in the consolidated government - the county executive - would be elected countywide.

Currently, the county is governed by three county commissioners who are elected countywide. Rural areas sometimes are shut out.

Rural charter opponents worry that their taxes would be used to pay for urban improvements. That’s possible for individual projects, like downtown improvements and new libraries.

Generally, however, taxes paid in urban areas benefit rural areas. That’s not likely to change under consolidation.

The charter calls for an urban service area where residents would be taxed for city-like services. Outside that boundary, in the wheat fields and forests, residents would pay taxes lower than those within the urban areas.

Suburbs

The 150,000 people living in the urbanized, unincorporated sprawl around the city can expect better services if consolidation passes. They probably would pay higher taxes, as well.

The charter calls for an urban service area where services like street repairs and police patrols would match those now provided in the city. That area probably would include the suburbs.

The taxes suburban residents pay would increase to cover the costs of the improvements. The money most likely would come from a utility tax, which already is used in the city.

The crumbling county parks system would get a boost. The county spends about 1 percent of its budget on parks, while the city gives parks 8 percent of its budget.

The charter earmarks 8 percent of the city-county budget for parks. In 1994, that mandate would have given county parks $5.5 million instead of $1.5 million.

Proponents argue that consolidation would give the suburbs better political representation.

Two of the 13 city-county districts would be entirely in the Valley and a third mostly in the Valley. A fourth district would include most of the North Side suburbs.

Under county government, the Valley and North Side can control two of the three commission seats, although that’s seldom happened. Commissioners are elected countywide but represent districts dominated by urban areas.

Consolidating might mean the end of future incorporation efforts in the Valley, Mead and Morgan Acres. The charter prevents new cities from forming.

It’s unclear, however, what consolidation would mean for efforts already under way to form several small cities in the Valley.

The city and county libraries would be merged under the charter, so county residents once again could use the downtown library without buying a library card.

But county residents would be responsible for the cost of outfitting their library district to match the bells and whistles of the city system.

City of Spokane

Spokane residents enjoy the widest range of government services in the county, and may have the most to lose if consolidation goes sour.

One goal of the charter is to offer those same benefits in other urban areas, without diluting service in the city. To achieve that goal, the charter also allows city-style taxes throughout the urban area.

Proponents say the tax increase would be enough to pay for the improvements. If they’re wrong, the new government would face two choices - cut services or increase taxes for all residents, including those in the former city.

The charter would do away with the city’s 35-year-old system of government.

Six of 13 districts would be inside what is now the city, and two would be a combination of what is now city and nearby unincorporated areas.

The charter mandates that the consolidated government fund neighborhood associations that would advise the council on land-use decisions and other issues. The council may, but isn’t required to, give the associations decision-making authority.

Small towns

Residents in Rockford, Airway Heights, Millwood and the county’s eight other small towns would feel the least effect from consolidation.

The charter keeps small towns independent unless their residents vote at some future date to join the consolidated government, or unless their population grows to 10 percent of the entire county.

No town is anywhere near that threshold. Cheney, the county’s second-largest city, has about 8,200 residents or 2 percent of the county.

The 13-member council gives the small towns more voice than they have on the existing county Board of Commissioners.

The three county commission districts are dominated by urban and suburban areas. But three of the proposed districts would represent rural areas and small towns.

The charter eliminates seats that towns have on the Spokane County Health District and the Spokane Transit Authority. Those boards would become departments of the consolidated government, ruled by the city-county council.

The charter calls for an advisory “Council of Mayors” that would meet quarterly to discuss issues affecting the towns. It would include mayors or council members from each of the towns, as well as representatives from the city-county government. It would have no decision-making authority.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Proposed countywide government districts

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



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