November 4, 2009 in City

Jail sales tax, I-1033 fail; R-71 favored

By and The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Former Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin, left, and Tom Power, of Proposition 4 opposition group Jobs and Opportunities Benefiting Spokane, react as the proposition appears headed for defeat Tuesday evening. They were at Press bar on South Grand Boulevard.
(Full-size photo)

Voters seemed wary Tuesday of ballot measures that would cost them money or mandate too much more change.

Kootenai County voters shot down a pair of ballot measures that would have increased the sales tax for 10 years to pay for a jail expansion and provide property tax relief.

In Washington, they turned thumbs down to Initiative 1033, new spending limits on state, county and city governments that elected officials had said were so radical they’d wind up hamstringing services. Voters were narrowly passing Referendum 71, a measure to ratify expanded rights to domestic partners, but the final decision might not be known for days.

Spokane voters were narrowly rejecting a new $33 million bond issue for city fire equipment and stations, but fire officials were trying to remain “cautiously optimistic” that they would gain enough votes in later counts. There’s no such wait for a proposed change to Spokane’s City Charter: Voters soundly rejected a package of amendments that would have set new rules for wages, workplaces, neighborhood development and environmental protection.

Kootenai County Jail measures

Voters said no to proposals to raise the sales tax by a half-cent for 10 years to pay for a jail expansion and provide property tax relief. Though a majority of voters supported the measures, the approval levels failed to reach the needed two-thirds margin.

The first measure sought approval for $57 million worth of bonds for jail improvement to be repaid over 10 years, but only allowed the bonds to be sold if voters also approved an increase to the sales tax. The no votes were slightly edging out the yes votes in unofficial early ballot counts Tuesday night.

The second asked whether the county should raise its sales tax by a half-cent for 10 years – to 6.5 percent – to pay for property tax relief and the jail expansion. Voters were approving that measure with 54 percent of the vote, still well short of the supermajority needed for passage.

The two measures represented the county’s third attempt in four years to address jail overcrowding and its last opportunity to expand the jail using the local-option sales tax, which expires at the end of the year.

County Finance Director David McDowell has said preliminary projections show that about $136 million would have been raised over 10 years, enough to provide $68 million for construction, which includes interest payments, and $68 million for property tax relief.

The county has been struggling with space problems for years as its 325-person jail is regularly pushed to capacity. Measures to expand the jail failed in 2005 and last year, when voters shot down a $147 million measure that would have expanded the jail and updated public safety facilities.

The proposal this time would have added 457 beds to the jail to meet county needs for at least 10 years. The price tag dropped to $57 million largely because of declining construction costs and a plan to use precast cells shipped to the site instead of concrete poured in place.

County Commissioner Todd Tondee has said that if the measures failed, the county will rentspace at other jails at an estimated cost of about $52 million over a 10-year period.

I-1033

This was the latest attempt by Washington anti-tax activist Tim Eyman to restrict government. Initiative 1033 would have attacked the state’s, counties’ and cities’ abilities to spend money, allowing their expenses to go up each year only by a formula that accounts for inflation and population growth. Any money collected above that level would have been set aside and returned the following year as property tax rebates.

R-71

Social conservatives sought to block expanded legal protections for domestic partnerships that the Legislature approved last spring for same-sex couples and seniors who want to live together without getting married. Those rights were labeled “everything but marriage” in the legislation, but opponents said it essentially allows marriage for same-sex couples.

Referendum 71 was narrowly passing in Tuesday ballot counts.

Spokane Proposition 4

Named the Community Bill of Rights by supporters, this proposal offered voters the chance to add nine amendments to the Spokane City Charter. It was drafted in a series of meetings sponsored by Envision Spokane with neighborhood groups, labor unions and environmental organizations and fine-tuned through town hall-style meetings.

It failed nearly 3-to-1 in votes counted Tuesday.

Spokane Proposition 1

City voters were also asked to approve a $33 million bond issue for new fire engines, equipment and stations. It needed a 60 percent supermajority and in Tuesday’s tally had collected only 58.6 percent.


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