March 11, 2009 in City

Spokane city bond falls

Officials say they’ll keep trying
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Molly Quinn photo


(Full-size photo)

Charter changes

Spokane voters overwhelmingly endorsed minor changes to the City Charter. The vote removes outdated sections, replaces clunky language, puts the city in compliance with current practice and modifies language for clarification. Additions include rules for picking a City Council president if the office is vacated and a requirement that the city engineer be licensed.

Spokane leaders say they’ll keep working to get a new police evidence building and an expanded animal shelter despite Tuesday’s vote rejecting an $18.5 million plan to pay for them.

After the first count Tuesday, a slight majority of voters favored the public safety tax, but the proposal needed 60 percent support to pass and future counts are unlikely to make up the difference.

Most city leaders argue that the current evidence building, which is owned by Spokane County, is near capacity and that the lack of a sprinkler system puts cases at risk.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan on Tuesday night. “We’ll just move on and try something else.”

City Councilman Bob Apple, who opposed putting the measure on the ballot, said the city’s needs can be met for a much smaller price. About $12 million of the plan would have gone to construct the evidence building. Apple said the project could be done for millions less by using an existing building.

“The voters have landed pretty much were I expected them to,” Apple said. “These aren’t critical issues.”

The tax would have cost the owner of a $100,000 property about $10 a year.

Last week, Mayor Mary Verner said if the tax failed, the proposals likely would be back in some form. “These are dire needs. We just need to come up with a way,” Verner said. “I don’t know what that way is going to be.”

The city last year committed to join the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service to handle animal control after the nonprofit group that contracts with the city, SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., said it wanted to stop those duties and change its focus.

To join the county, the city agreed to expand SCRAPS’ animal shelter. Verner said she might ask the council to consider a bond that would be taken out of the city’s current tax revenue to pay for the $4.2 million expense. But she added that doing so is not a desirable option.

“We’re already facing a big budget gap in the general fund,” Verner said.

Later this year, the city expects to ask voters for money to pay for fire department updates. The last 10-year fire bond was approved by voters in 1999.

Shogan said he’s willing to consider combining the police needs with the fire bond. Verner called that an option, but “not a desired” one.

The fire bond is “really focused,” Verner said. “It’s in a rhythm of returning to the voters on a cyclical basis.”

Lisa Rosier, chairwoman of Citizens for Public Safety Proposition 1, said there wasn’t much time to organize support for the issue. The City Council didn’t decide to move ahead with the bond until Jan. 12. “They’ll just have to keep patching the building,” Rosier said.

The new tax also would have provided:

•$2 million to purchase a former state Department of Social and Health Service building, at 1427 W. Gardner Ave., that the city has leased for its new municipal court.

•$500,000 to upgrade the Police Department’s shooting range, adjacent to the Spokane River and Felts Field.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.

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