City OKs 2010 budget

Opposes state Initative 1033 as detrimental to future

Spokane Valley City Council members adopted a 2010 budget Tuesday and opposed a statewide initiative they felt would undermine future budgets.

Both actions were unanimous despite some sympathetic rhetoric about Initiative 1033. The measure would limit spending increases to the amount of inflation plus an allowance for population growth.

Including special funds, which are heavily influenced by grants and fund transfers, next year’s budget totals nearly $100.4 million. The general fund budget is slightly more than $54.5 million.

The 2010 general fund is up nearly 10.7 percent from this year’s $49.3 million. However, the figures include beginning balances – or reserves – that are predicted to rise nearly $7.3 million from this year to next.

This year’s beginning balance was budgeted at $12.1 million while next year’s is pegged at nearly $19.4 million, a 59.9 percent increase.

The council also confirmed Mayor Rich Munson’s appointment of architect Rustin Hall to the city Planning Commission and received a Greater Spokane Inc. plan to market the city’s efforts to revitalize the Sprague-Appleway corridor.

Hall will serve out the term of Ian Robertson, who was elevated to the City Council Aug. 4. Robertson’s Planning Commission term expires Dec. 31, but Hall is likely to be reappointed.

Hall’s nomination was warmly received by several council members, including Bill Gothmann, who said he “couldn’t be more happy.”

Tony Lazanis, an occasional critic of the council, also applauded the appointment.

“He is very expert and a very good person,” Lazanis said.

Hall is president of ALSC Architects and has served on the boards of the YMCA and the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Munson said the 12 other applicants for the vacancy will be considered for Hall’s position and another opening in January if they wish.

Planning Commissioner Tom Towey will have to step down when he is elected to the City Council. Towey is running unopposed for the seat Dick Denenny will vacate at the end of the year.

The council conducted a public hearing, as required by state law, before voting to urge citizens to reject Initiative 1033 in the Nov. 3 general election.

The initiative would subject all general fund revenue to the kind of caps that so far have been applied only to property taxes. It would do so by requiring property tax reductions if the sales tax, fees or other revenues exceed an inflation-based budget cap.

The current 1 percent limit on property tax levies would still apply.

Like the current limit, I-1033 would use the U.S. implicit price deflator index to measure inflation. Population growth would be based on estimates by the state Office of Financial Management.

Spokane Valley Finance Director Ken Thompson said his adaptation of an Association of Washington Cities analysis indicates the initiative would cost the city about $526,300 over five years.

No one testified against the initiative, but council members had plenty of objections after hearing from initiative proponent Joanne McCann, a retired teacher from Spokane.

McCann pointed out that tax increases approved by voters would be exempt from the limits, as would money received from the federal government. She noted that Spokane County voters renewed a sales tax for law enforcement in August.

Spokane Valley resident Art Britton objected that the City Council imposed a 6 percent telephone tax last year without a referendum.

“I’m not in favor of any levy at the present time,” the gray-haired constituent said. “I can’t handle any more. I’m having to go back to work and do something to keep from sinking.”

Council members saw the city’s reserves and ability to provide service sinking.

Robertson said he would have “no problem” applying the initiative to the federal budget, but he thought the implicit price deflator index tends not to keep up with actual inflation. He also questioned why the initiative applies to county and city governments but not fire districts and other local taxing districts.

Councilwoman Diana Wilhite said the idea of controlling government spending is philosophically appealing, but the I-1033 would hurt communities.

Munson said cities around the state already are selling assets such as parks and library buildings to make ends meet.

Although he joined the vote to oppose I-1033, Councilman Gary Schimmels said it calls for governments to “do what is affordable,” as private enterprise must when money is short.

Denenny countered that his business accumulates retained earnings in good years, but the initiative doesn’t allow that.

“What would be the incentive for cities to encourage economic growth if we couldn’t pay for those extra services that growth demands?” Munson asked.

Later in the meeting, the council received the Sprague-Appleway revitalization marketing plan it demanded last month in exchange for a $60,000 donation to Greater Spokane Inc.

Robin Toth, Greater Spokane’s economic development director, outlined a number of strategies. In particular, she recommended starting even a modest project – such as a pocket park, a fountain or other amenities – in the proposed city center district as a catalyst for other projects.

Also, she said the effort needs a logo and a catchier name: “Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan is a mouthful.”

Toth proposed phased marketing that starts with the city center district, but agreed with Munson that Auto Row could be promoted simultaneously.

“We’re talking about our biggest tax base,” Munson said.

Toth suggested some “streetscape” improvements, and agreed to serve on a new ad hoc committee with council members and auto dealers.

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