December 10, 2009 in Washington Voices

Council boosts allocations

Valleyfest, museum get increase in motel tax money
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spare cash salved hard feelings when the Spokane Valley City Council handed out motel tax money Tuesday.

A committee had recommended shortchanging the Valleyfest organization in next year’s allocations and completely stiffing the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum.

Museum officials had already filed a written protest.

Councilman Dick Denenny moved to accept the recommendation of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee when city Finance Director Ken Thompson predicted an extra $15,000 would be available.

Thompson said he conducted a new analysis Tuesday afternoon and increased his estimate of what the tax will generate next year.

That enabled Mayor Rich Munson to persuade the council to increase Valleyfest’s 2010 allocation from $10,000 to $30,000 and to give the museum $5,000.

Valleyfest received $27,500 this year; the museum, $3,250.

At Munson’s suggestion, the council padded Thompson’s $15,000 windfall by shaving $5,000 each from the two largest awards.

Instead of $200,000, the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau will get $195,000. The Spokane Regional Sports Commission’s award was reduced to $120,000.

The council had already set aside $90,000 for the city’s CenterPlace Regional Event Center and a $30,000 reserve in case collections fall short.

Technically, the motel tax is a share of the state sales tax, equivalent to 2 percent of motel room charges. Cities must use the money to promote tourism.

In other business, the council unanimously approved new street standards designed to improve traffic circulation as well as construction quality.

Based on a study that showed many city streets are failing prematurely, the standards call for thicker layers of gravel and asphalt.

Residential streets would be required to have three inches of asphalt over six inches of gravel instead of two inches over four.

Spokane County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls estimates that will add $900,000 to homeowners’ bills for installing sewer lines in the city next year.

The higher standards also would increase the city’s cost for repaving the portion of streets not torn up by sewer trenches.

However, the standards allow for exceptions if they would jeopardize a project such as the ongoing replacement of septic tanks with county sewer lines. City Public Works officials recommended waiting for final cost estimates next year before deciding whether to exempt sewer-related paving.

In accepting that advice, the current council shifted the decision to the council that will be formed Jan. 5 when three new members are seated.

Newly elected Councilman Dean Grafos, who took his seat last week, also wanted to wait until next year to decide whether to grant the city’s street maintenance contractor a 3.3 percent wage increase.

Public Works Director Neil Kersten said speedy renewal was needed because Poe Asphalt Paving begins cold-patch repairs in January.

The council voted 5-1 against Grafos to renew Poe’s contract and authorize $200,000 in additional work. With the increase in labor costs, the contract will add nearly $1.4 million to the city’s costs.

Grafos joined the rest of the council in renewing AAA Sweeping’s contract for cleaning streets. The company sought no increase in its $490,199 annual fee.

Earlier in the meeting, Grafos called for saving city money at his expense.

He suggested the city cancel its $358-a-month contract for two of his Sprague & Sullivan Ministorage units and transfer the stored materials to surplus space in the city police building. Council members agreed unanimously to pass the suggestion to City Manager Dave Mercier.

Also Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a code amendment restricting uses in residential zones.

The amendment bans use of cargo shipping containers as residential storage sheds, requires additions to nonconforming buildings to meet setback requirements and clarifies size limits for accessory dwelling units and the restrictions on home businesses.

A specific list of prohibited “home occupations” was added to existing restrictions.

Banned uses include “adult” retailing and entertainment, auto repairs, welding or metal-plating, large-appliance repair, storage for hauling or towing operations, vehicles sales, cabinet-making, kennels or stables, restaurants and drinking establishments.

On the other hand, people engaged in less intrusive residential occupations may now avoid paying a fee although they still have to get a permit.

To qualify for the fee exemption, home occupations must satisfy five criteria:

•No exterior alteration of the home.

•No business-related deliveries.

•No customers on the premises.

•No signs.

•No nonresident employees.


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