April 21, 2010 in City

Kids levy supporters hope for November

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Supporters hoping to put a Children’s Investment Fund levy on the ballot this summer are now eyeing November after failing to collect the needed 12,000 signatures.

Organizers said a late start – seven weeks before the April 19 deadline – and inexperience with signature-gathering were to blame for the shortfall. “We see this as a positive,” said Ben Stuckart, a member of the fund’s steering committee and director of Communities in Schools, a business-funded nonprofit. “It gives us a chance to run a longer campaign.”

So far, volunteers have gathered 8,200 names.

“We need 8,400 validated signatures … we should collect about 12,000 to account for those from outside of the city who have mistakenly signed, nonregistered voters and other invalid signatures,” said Don Barbieri, a co-chairman of the initiative.

The six-year levy would raise $5 million annually and would cost property owners about 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The money would be used to support early childhood learning, abuse and neglect prevention and treatment programs, mentoring programs, and before- and after-school activities.

The committee waited to start gathering signatures “because we were really hoping the (Spokane) City Council would put it on the ballot,” Stuckart said. In addition, none of the steering committee members had run a signature-gathering campaign before, he said.

But according to the city charter, the City Council can’t put two tax measures on the ballot within six months of each other. The EMS levy was already planned for April.

Organizers say they aren’t disappointed. “When I have talked to other campaigns, they are quite impressed with how many signatures we’ve gotten,” Stuckart said. “No one thought we’d get this far.”

The average volunteer gatherer ended up with 8 to 10 signatures per hour. That’s equal to about 800 volunteer hours, “which is fairly significant,” he said.

Levy supporters are unsure if the initiative will be on the ballot with any other tax measures in November. There’s a possibility it could be up against a bond for the Spokane Fire Department, officials said.

But Stuckart says he’s confident the levy will pass; about 80 percent of city voters signature gatherers talked to gave a positive response, he said.


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