September 10, 2009 in City

Spokane could come out ahead

Spokane could come out ahead
By The Spokesman-Review

If the city of Spokane annexes a portion of the West Plains in 2012 as planned, the city could collect about $750,000 more a year in taxes and fees than it pays out for services, a consultant’s report suggests.

Its largest expenses will include police and fire services, said consultant John Ostrowski, who estimated in May what that could cost. But city officials don’t agree with all his estimates and have refused to release some of his figures or his discussion about providing police protection to the area, contending he made some bad assumptions and some mistakes.

Mayor Mary Verner said portions of the report that she decided not to release were preliminary.

In June, Spokane officials released the draft of the West Plains Annexation Report in response to a public records request from The Spokesman-Review. But the city excised some information about police and fire services, even though the report says they’ll generate most of the costs of annexation. The city has also refused to show those portions to Airway Heights and county officials.

The cost of fire services wasn’t available, Ostrowski wrote in his May draft, because it was still being studied. The city of Spokane and Fire District 10 have an agreement that would result in the city paying the district the amount the district currently receives in taxes in return for the district providing some or all fire protection to the annexed area.

Although the report released by the city deleted those estimated costs, Ostrowski’s estimates can be derived from the remaining figures in a chart of the net financial impacts. It suggests the city would pay District 10 about $500,000 in “mitigation” the first year of annexation and about $750,000 by the eighth year.

But those aren’t the only potential fire costs, because the city’s fire unions could also claim that their personnel are required to provide services if the area is placed in the city’s boundaries.

“I think it’s a very incomplete estimate,” said Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer.

The costs of police services are discussed at length in Ostrowski’s report, but the city blocked out that section when it released the document. In another portion, the report estimates the city would have to budget $400,000 the first year of annexation, and slightly more than $600,000 by the eighth year, for extra police protection in the area.

City Administrator Ted Danek said the figures are strictly the consultant’s opinion and are subject to change.

“We are going to have to add police officers. The number is still undecided,” Danek said when the report was released.

Taxpayers “absolutely” have the right to see the full report when the city finishes compiling more accurate information, Verner said. The city has not received a final copy of Ostrowski’s report, which it would have to release under the state public records law. But it is processing a request from the newspaper to release separate cost estimates under the public records law.

Staff writer Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.

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