January 22, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Cities making worthy joint effort on annexation

 

Spokane and Airway Heights are being downright cordial as they work out an annexation plan for the West Plains. Governance of the area had been the subject of squabbling for more than 30 years, but not this week.

Things could get ticklish yet if Spokane County commissioners raise a fuss over the $1.3 million to $3 million in tax revenues the county could lose. Or if the Boundary Review Board finds a flaw in the plan. Or if affected property owners fight it in court.

But if the deal does go through, Spokane will increase its area by 10 square miles, to include Spokane International Airport, and Airway Heights will absorb a portion that includes the Wal-Mart store on Hayford Road.

It’s more complicated than that, though, thanks to overlapping jurisdictions and taxing authorities shared among the county, its municipalities and the multitude of junior taxing districts that deliver water, fire protection and other services. The impact on Fire District 10 and its tax base poses particular challenges.

The governmental mishmash is no recipe for efficiency.

Airway Heights, where lack of water had hampered growth, more than doubled its population in the 1970s, in part because the city of Spokane extended water to the community, starting at the new Airway Heights Corrections Center. That move, calculated to pave the way for eventual West Plains annexation, stirred resentment in the area.

When county commissioners took steps in 1982 to delay the water extension, Spokane City Council members countered by threatening to block county access to the city’s sewage treatment plant.

Such disputes arise between local governments over tax revenue, even though many of their constituents are the same people.

There are endless examples of how residents’ access to governmental services is complicated by meandering jurisdictional boundaries. And not just water, sewer or fire protection.

The city of Spokane has just launched its own Municipal Court to replace a service previously provided by the county. The city of Spokane Valley is exploring a similar step following the county’s decision to stop providing snow-removal work.

Annexation is always potentially contentious, but it is one way to achieve a more reliable governmental structure. Intergovernmental agreements offer another, if participants are committed to making them last.

The ideal approach would be to merge all these local governments and remove the duplication and built-in inefficiency. That concept was tried once and rejected by Spokane County voters after more than two years of hard work by elected freeholders.

In time, the consolidated government approach may be ripe for another try – especially if the Legislature provides a less cumbersome process – but until then, local governments should use the tools they do have to strive for cooperation and unity on behalf of the public.

Spokane and Airway Heights are headed down the right path.

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