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Verner says new taxes not an option

Verner says new taxes not an option

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner says she’s not considering new taxes to bail the city out of its $10 million hole for 2011.

City leaders will present a preliminary budget plan to the City Council by early May, Verner said in an interview this week. She said she will ask all departments to take an across-the-board cut of nearly 3 percent that will save $3.5 million and will unveil a plan in the coming weeks to deal with the remaining $6.5 million hole.

“Our work force will shrink this time around. There’s no way around it,” Verner said. “This year, there will be impact on services.”

Verner has ruled out raising utility taxes and says she doesn’t plan to ask voters for higher property taxes through a levy lid lift. That was part of Mayor Jim West’s strategy to help deal with significant deficits in 2005.

“I’m not counting on any increased ongoing source of revenue,” Verner said. “One reason that I’m not counting on them is … I don’t know if they’re going to be viable in this economic climate.”

She said some members of the City Council have advised her that they want to consider new taxes or fees to help fill the gap.

“Even if they do come up with new revenue, it just gives us a little more cushion. It doesn’t solve the budget problem,” Verner said.

She said she is asking for city union “help” in achieving savings for the $6.5 million portion of the deficit but declined to elaborate.

Verner also said part of the $6.5 million in cuts could be saved by eliminating programs or cutting some areas more significantly than the across-the-board cut. She declined to give further details until the plan is released.

“It’s not fair to the City Council to not roll them out to them first,” she said.

City Councilman Steve Corker said there are signs that the economy is improving, which he hopes will help the city forgo property tax increases beyond the 1 percent rise it usually takes.

City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin called the mayor’s decision not to pursue taxes to fill the gap “refreshing news.” She said she hopes the budget also includes union concessions so the budget involves more than “huge, sweeping cuts” in programs.