Ignoring a plea from school officials, the Spokane City Council on Monday decided to ask voters in March for $18.5 million.
The bulk of the property tax would pay for a new property evidence building to replace a Spokane County-owned building near the Courthouse that police leaders say is deteriorating. It also would buy an office to house the city’s new Municipal Court, cover the planned expansion of the county’s animal shelter and pay to upgrade a police shooting range.
Supporters said the city can’t wait longer because evidence crucial to numerous cases in the court system is at risk in a building with no fire suppression system and a leaky roof.
“This is critical that we bring it forward and let the voters decide,” said Councilman Mike Allen.
The tax measure will be decided in the March 10 election. City officials estimate property owners would pay about $20 a year for a property assessed at $200,000.
In the same election, Spokane Public School officials are asking for a $288 million construction bond and a three-year levy that would raise about $60 million a year. School leaders didn’t testify at Monday’s meeting, but they previously requested that other local governments avoid placing tax measures on the same ballot.
Jim Huttenmaier, regional public affairs manager for Greater Spokane Inc., said the business group is concerned about placing the tax question the same ballot as the school measures. He noted that one of the reasons council members declined to put a similar proposal before voters in November was the faltering economy.
“How has the economy changed over the last six months to make this increase in taxes more attractive?” Jim Huttenmaier said. Greater Spokane has endorsed the school district’s tax plans.
Councilman Al French noted that he was opposed to the original request last year. After studying the issuing and trimming some of the costs, he said, he’s confident the new plan is essential.
“As an architect, I can tell you (the evidence building’s) days are numbered,” French said. “This is not a frivolous request.”
Councilman Richard Rush said he supports the tax increase, but not when it competes against public school tax measures. He and Councilman Bob Apple voted against placing the tax on the ballot.
“All of these are dire needs,” Rush said. But “should the school bond or school levy fail, we would suffer greatly.”
Other council members said the public should be given a say. If any of the measures fail, the city or schools can place requests on the ballot later this year.
“I am convinced that the people of this city can say yes to both,” said Councilman Steve Corker.
If approved, the tax measure would include:
•$11.8 million for a new property evidence building that would be built on city property near Normandie and Mission where the city’s Street Maintenance office and other departments are located.
•$2 million to purchase a former state Department of Social and Health Service building at 1427 W. Gardner, that the city has previously leased, for its new Municipal Court.
•$4.2 million to add on to the county’s animal shelter and other items needed to move forward with the city’s new partnership with Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, which will start handing animal control for the city in 2010.
•$500,000 to upgrade the Spokane Police Department’s shooting range, which is adjacent to the Spokane River and Felts Field.