August 19, 2010 in Washington Voices

Spokane Valley City Council discusses vehicle taxes

Benefit district is one of several options
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The merits of forming a regional Transportation Benefit District to raise revenue for road construction received nearly an hour of discussion at Tuesday’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting, but the end of the meeting didn’t appear to bring the council any closer to a decision.

Deputy city attorney Cary Driskell said his investigation showed that there are 60,000 qualifying vehicles in the city. If the city were to do its own TBD it could collect $1.2 million a year with a $20 tab fee. Other revenue options include a gas tax, property tax or sales tax. “You can use a combination of the options outlined here,” Driskell said.

Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke was in attendance to plead his case for a regional district. He said the county is still waiting to hear back from the various jurisdictions in the county on whether they are interested in joining together for a regional district. Mielke presented a draft interlocal agreement that stipulates that any funding option considered must be approved by a public vote even if the vote is not required by state law.

Under the draft interlocal agreement, each jurisdiction would get back 70 percent of the money collected within their boundaries. The other 30 percent would be pooled together and used for larger projects considered to have a regional significance, such as the Bridging the Valley effort. Under that formula the city would actually get more money back than it would if it formed its own TBD, he said.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel objected to what she called an overly broad definition of projects that could be paid for with the money. The proposed interlocal agreement states that any transportation project paid for with the money must be in the jurisdiction’s six-year transportation plan. It also defines projects of regional significance to include improvements for vehicular traffic, freight mobility, public transportation, passenger rail and bicycle-pedestrian accommodations.

“It’s just too general,” Grassel said. She believes people are tired of paying taxes and won’t approve any funding if it can be used on anything but roads. “I don’t think there’s public support for those other things.”

Mielke said the various definitions were lifted from state statutes. “Would you also want us to eliminate Bridging the Valley?” he said. “That’s not a road project.”

Grassel said she would like to see the Bridging the Valley effort continue. Mielke pointed out that bike-pedestrian accommodations are also necessary. “That’s sidewalks,” he said.

Grassel said allowing bike lanes and sidewalks would be acceptable, but she wouldn’t want to see the money used for a bike lane that was equal to a car lane as some other cities have.

“I feel like pedestrian-bike accommodation has to be included,” said Councilwoman Rose Dempsey.

Councilman Bob McCaslin asked Mielke if the city could have its own TBD and enter into interlocal agreements with surrounding jurisdictions for the Bridging the Valley projects. Mielke said it could be done. “I don’t know where the funding would come from” he said. “It’s a whopping big project.”

McCaslin said he wasn’t in favor of a regional TBD. “If I’m going to do something I want to have complete control,” he said.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said he would like to see the draft interlocal agreement amended to have the jurisdictions decide what funding source goes up for a public vote. “I think there are some advantages to going regional,” he said. “You get more money with the regional.”

In other business the council heard a brief report from finance director Ken Thompson on the proposed property tax amount for 2011. Staff has prepared a plan to lower the amount collected by one percent, which would lower revenue by $100,000. That would set a tax amount of roughly $1.54 per $1,000 in assessed home values.

Thompson said he noted several new council members had asked about rolling back 2010 taxes, which could not be done. “That’s where this came from,” he said of the decrease.

Gothmann asked if lowering taxes would limit how much the city could collect in future years. “It wouldn’t close any doors for the future,” Thompson said.

A public hearing on the 2011 budget revenues is scheduled for the next council meeting.


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