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Our View: Putting bonds on same ballot helpful to taxpayers

The Spokane City Council made the right call Monday when its members voted 5-2 to schedule a forthcoming bond election March 10.

Spokane Public Schools had asked them to pick a different date. March 10 is when the district will run separate bond and levy issues, and Superintendent Nancy Stowell said additional taxing requests on the same ballot would pose a distraction.

Acceding to the district’s request might have been courteous, but it would have made the City Council’s own responsibility secondary to the school district’s comfort, ultimately to the disadvantage of voters.

Education is vitally important to the community, of course, and the school system can’t afford to build and operate school buildings without voter-approved property tax collections. But the same is true of public safety, and, as several City Council members noted Monday evening, the duty to address that concern is theirs.

The $18.5 million measure the city will present to voters March 10 would provide a new police property room, a Municipal Court facility, an addition to Spokane County’s animal shelter and a police shooting range upgrade.

By sharing the ballot with that measure, the school district may well find it more difficult to pass its $288 million construction bond and three-year $186 million operating levy. But controlling that risk by separating the requests could discourage voters from making fully informed decisions.

We presume that local policymakers, such as city councils and school boards, take a studious approach to financial decisions. We expect them to assess their needs, tally their resources and set appropriate spending priorities. Failing to consider foreseeable demands would be reckless.

Voters and taxpayers have to live within their means, too, and have the same need to anticipate what will be asked of them. As it is, the March 10 ballot will include only the property tax measures identified here. It will not reflect a city fire bond expected to come up later. Or a county jail construction proposal that is on the horizon. Or tax increases that the revenue-challenged Legislature may refer to the voters this fall. Or the various fee increases that are under consideration for transit and public utilities.

Taxpayers, who bear the cost of government, deserve a full accounting of what is needed so they can align their priorities intelligently, the same way school boards and city councils do. It’s no given that they will treat multiple tax requests as an either-or proposition, but they should be the ones who decide how far to stretch their generosity.

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