Supporters of an effort to disincorporate the city of Spokane Valley say they have more than half the signatures needed to put the proposal before voters. But they’ll have to gather the rest as a Valley business group ramps up its opposition to the plan.
Citizens for Disincorporation needs at least half of the city’s 48,000 voters to sign its petitions. Campaign chairwoman Sally Jackson said the group is approaching 16,000 after about five months of leaving petitions in supportive shops and sending signature gatherers door to door. Jackson didn’t have an exact figure, saying, “We don’t count them all the time.”
If Jackson is correct, that would be better than previous efforts, which never reached the halfway mark before being abandoned.
Valley Mayor Rich Munson said he doubts the group has as many signatures as claimed, noting that unless supporters turn in their signatures, there’s never an independent way of checking their numbers. They just start up a new campaign on an old issue.
“It’s like a running sore,” Munson said. “We would like to move on and get this behind us.”
But even if half of the city’s voters sign petitions, the city will not send it straight to the ballot, Munson said. It will send the proposal to the Boundary Review Board, which could reject it.
Munson said the board should review disincorporation under the same standards used when incorporation was proposed in 2001 of providing urban services, being financially viable and adhering to the Growth Management Act.
Each side accuses the other of spreading bad information. Jackson and other disincorporation advocates also say the 6-year-old city actively campaigns against the effort. Munson denies that, insisting it is “absolutely their right” to raise the issue. Personally, he added, he believes the idea is disruptive and wastes time and money because the city is doing a good job despite difficult economic times.
At this point, the anti-disincorporation effort is sponsored by the Spokane Valley Business Association. While the red “Disincorporate Now” signs are sprouting around the Valley like dandelions, so are signs proclaiming “We ♥ Spokane Valley. Support our city.” Sometimes they wind up side-by-side on arterials such as Dishman-Mica Road, or on adjoining lawns where neighbors take opposing sides.
The process of dissolving a city, like forming one, is set by state statute. It’s also rare. Requiring signatures from half a community’s voters far exceeds the threshold for statewide initiatives or referenda, which is 8 percent or 4 percent, respectively, of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election. A petition to de-annex an area needs signatures from 10 percent of the area’s residents, although it needs a 60 percent approval rating of the entire city in the election. Disincorporation requires a simple majority if it makes the ballot.
Only two Washington communities have disincorporated in the past 40 years, and both were small with dwindling populations. Elberton, in Whitman County between Garfield and Steptoe, disincorporated in 1966. Westlake, a Grant County town on the edge of Moses Lake, disincorporated in 1972 after rising reservoir levels made part of the town unlivable; portions are now part of the city of Moses Lake.
Whether disincorporation is rare because it’s so difficult or made difficult because state officials wanted it to be rare is hard to say, said Paul Sullivan, a researcher for the Municipal Research and Services Center.
“It just doesn’t happen very often,” said Sullivan, who has worked for the Seattle-based center for 20 years and hasn’t been asked about disincorporation before.
Supporters have a six-month window to gather the signatures, but they don’t have an actual deadline. When the petitions are turned in, the county Elections Office will count valid signatures from the previous six months and reject any that are older. They started in late February, but could add weeks at the end by dropping the names collected early on, when the weather was bad and signature-gathering was slow, supporter Susan Scott said.
But both Jackson and Scott agreed the rest of the signatures may be harder to get than the ones thus far, because many voters are out of town on vacation, and voter-rich locations such as senior citizen facilities and gated communities often don’t let signature gatherers in.