Council reiterates desire for input on spending taxes

Spending tax money collected in Liberty Lake’s River District was again the topic of discussion at this week’s City Council meeting as council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution affirming their desire to be involved in the process currently managed by Spokane County.

The Tax Increment Financing area is located north of Interstate 90 on both sides of Harvard Road. Property taxes paid in the district are used to reimburse the developer for infrastructure projects like sewer, water and roads. It is expected to collect $15 million over 15 years. The River District land is being developed by Greenstone Corp. and is owned by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

The land inside the district was in Spokane County when the TIF area was formed in 2005, so Spokane County was put in charge of disbursing the money and running the program. Liberty Lake annexed most of the district in 2006, but has never been given any authority over how the money is spent. The city has been trying for months to get the county to modify the agreement.

“It was put together hastily,” council member Patrick Jenkins said. “We really don’t have a seat at the table for approval of projects.”

The resolution affirms a previous resolution that called for TIF money to be spent on a new I-90 interchange, sewer and water infrastructure, a large park and commercial streets. It also lays out what the city would like to see happen, including ensuring that expenditures are reasonable, that projects built within the city limits have city approval and that the city be allowed to operate as a developer for projects in the TIF zone.

Jenkins said the focus in the River District should be larger parks rather than pocket parks, an idea Greenstone has resisted. The south side of the community has Pavillion Park and Rocky Hill Park. “Those people who live on the north side of the community should not be shortchanged,” he said.

Several City Council members have met individually with county commissioners, but a resolution provides a unified voice for negotiating. “You need a resolution like this to solidify the message,” he said.

City Attorney Sean Boutz said he talked recently with a Spokane County attorney. “They’re willing to work with the city to give the city a voice,” he said. “That does not include amending the TIF agreement.”

Council member Odin Langford asked why the city should sit down with the county when the county isn’t willing to give up any authority. “Where’s it going to get us?” he said. “I think that we do need to voice something. I wish it was something more than a resolution with no teeth.”

Mayor Wendy Van Orman said a meeting with the county commissioners to discuss the TIF agreement has been tentatively scheduled for June 18.

In other business, the council approved an emergency resolution giving support to Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s decision to close the Spokane River between Harvard and Barker roads. The sheriff requested that Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley pass resolutions in support of the move, Van Orman said.

The council also discussed whether to explore televising council meetings, which could cost up to $100,000. “I have zero interest in spending even a tenth of that,” Owens said.

The council members agreed that the idea should be researched, but that the estimated cost would be too much. “If it turns out to be $100,000, the answer would be no,” Olander said.

During the meeting Liberty Lake Library Director Pamela Mogan announced that the library will now be open two additional hours on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A new program to deliver books to home-bound residents once a month with Liberty Lake SCOPE volunteers is also in the works and should start this summer.

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