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Bill To Let Sta Fix Streets Hits A Bump Citing Opposition, Sta Won’t Support Bills To Tap Reserve Fund

FOR THE RECORD: 2-28-97 Correction: Don Harmon is mayor of Airway Heights. A story in Thursday’s newspaper about a plan to allow the Spokane Transit Authority to help pay for street repairs named the wrong city.

Stymied by opposition from small-town mayors, Spokane Transit Authority won’t endorse bills allowing local governments to tap its money for street repairs.

Extreme winter weather has left Spokane city and county struggling to find money for street repairs. Meanwhile, STA sits on a $33 million reserve fund that can’t be used for anything but buses, bus stations and the like.

Senate Bill 5430, sponsored by Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane, would allow transit authorities to spend some of their money on street repairs. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Mark Sterk and Duane Sommers, also Republicans from Spokane.

Any such spending would require approval from a transit authority’s governing board.

Spokane County commissioners endorsed the twin bills Tuesday, and Commissioner Kate McCaslin asked the STA board to do the same on Wednesday.

“STA is a partner in this community. It is only appropriate that they take some action to assist with the upkeep of the roads,” McCaslin said.

STA’s board consists of three Spokane City Council members, two county commissioners, and the mayors of Cheney, Millwood, Medical Lake and Airway Heights.

McCaslin, Commissioner John Roskelley, and City Council members Roberta Greene and Jeff Colliton favored the bills. But they were outvoted 5-4 by the small-town mayors and Spokane City Councilman Mike Brewer.

The mayors, who represent about 4 percent of county residents, said they doubted their towns would get any money from STA. The towns’ residents shouldn’t have to subsidize road work in the city of Spokane, they said.

Cheney Mayor Al Ogden said the city and county should lobby the Legislature for more freedom to spend their own money, if they need more for road repairs. Taking money STA has saved for future projects is “nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

“This is the beginning. Where will it end?” said Medical Lake Mayor Don Harmon, who noted that school buses cause road damage in his town.

“Is Cheney School District going to start paying the city of Airway Heights?”

STA employees oppose the bills, said Curtis Volesky, president of the union that represents 350 drivers, clerical workers and other employees.

Volesky told the STA board that the region’s road problems are too big to be solved by tapping into STA’s reserves.

Doing so would be short-sighted, he said, because “our reserve funds are our future.”

It remains to be seem what the impact of STA’s opposition to the bills might be. Attempts to reach West were unsuccessful Wednesday.

, DataTimes