August 11, 2010 in City

Commissioners finalize raceway funds

Improvements expected to be reimbursed by bond sale
By The Spokesman-Review
 
A taxing question

Spokane and other cities have only to ask if they want a regional vehicle license tax, Spokane County commissioners said Tuesday.

They were responding to Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan’s statement Monday that he would like a regional, not city-only, approach to the tax, but commissioners have balked at the idea.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said he has been promoting a regional approach for a couple of years.

Commissioners voted unanimously to reiterate their position in a letter to cities throughout the county.

Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager dissented again Tuesday during final action on a $588,500 racetrack expenditure.

Commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard said the money was needed for safety improvements at Spokane County Raceway.

Mager said neither the improvements nor the racetrack are needed.

Tuesday’s appropriation will allow the road course to be realigned and separated from the drag strip. Delivery trucks and other vehicles no longer will have to cross the road track to reach the raceway office.

Also, road course users will be protected from traction problems and hazardous drag strip barriers.

Mielke said the county’s risk management staff recommended the track realignment when he and Richard voted to buy it.

Richard said a reason he supported the purchase was so young people could race their cars on a track instead of public roads, but the raceway puts them at risk.

“You make a good point that there are risks inherent in the racing business, and it’s another good reason that the county shouldn’t be owning a racetrack,” Mager said.

Richard said the improvements won’t deplete the general fund, which will be reimbursed by a bond sale that will be repaid by rental car and real estate taxes.

Marshall Farnell, the county’s chief executive officer, was in San Francisco Tuesday to arrange a package of bonds to be sold by the end of the month, including $7.1 million for the raceway.

The raceway bonds include nearly $5.4 million to pay off a purchase loan, $750,000 for sewer and water pipes on the raceway grounds (Airway Heights will bring utility service to the boundary), $100,000 to clean up contaminated soil and $805,900 in safety improvements.

Although Mager opposed the road course improvements, she voted for the soil cleanup and previously voted to improve spectator safety and handicap access.

The real estate excise tax and tax on car rentals, both existing taxes, are limited to capital projects by state law.

The real estate excise tax – 0.25 percent of sale prices – generated $1.1 million last year and is expected to generate nearly $1.2 million this year.

The 1 percent rental car tax brought in $380,000 last year and is expected to produce about $321,000 this year.

Farnell said in a telephone interview that “nothing will be cut back” because he has been planning the proposed use since the county purchased the 314.7-acre raceway in April 2008 for $4.3 million.

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