The Spokane Valley City Council dais was full Tuesday for the first time since Jan. 12 with the attendance of council member and State Sen. Bob McCaslin at the weekly council meeting.
The full council moved rapidly along in unanimously approving ordinances, resolutions and motions to make small changes to the city’s alarm ordinance, approve development agreements, withdraw from the Cable Advisory Board and suspend negotiations for five acres of property at University City for a new city hall.
The council also approved taking $1.5 million from the Civic Facilities Fund to pay for full width paving with 2 inches of asphalt after sewer installation in several neighborhoods this summer.
The quick progress came to a halt, however, when it was time to pass a motion approving the hiring of a police precinct commander. The position is not in the current contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and will require the city to pay more than $150,000 in salary and benefits. In previous weeks the council had said the position was needed and gave staff the go-ahead to approve the proposed motion.
The motion was approved by a majority of the council, but not before some objections were raised.
Council member Brenda Grassel expressed discomfort with approving a new expense. “I’m still not real clear about what happens in 2011 and going forward,” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable approving something I don’t quite understand fully.”
Acting city manager Mike Jackson said the city currently has $1 million set aside in its policing budget for any cost adjustments required for the police contract. That money will be used to fund the precinct commander initially until the position can be worked into the contract, which is going into negotiations now.
McCaslin asked if there was any harm in waiting to add the position. Jackson responded that there would be no harm, but the request has been discussed for months. Adding the position was also recommended in a law enforcement study the city had conducted last summer.
“So you’re advocating this?” said McCaslin.
Jackson said he was recommending approval of the addition because he believed the position would be in the next contract. “This is a temporary agreement,” he said.
“If he’s for it, I’m against it,” McCaslin said. He and Grassel both voted against the motion.
Some council members had previously asked about giving back a property tax increase approved by the previous council. “It’s too late to reduce the 2010 collection,” said finance director Ken Thompson. “We can’t reverse that.”
The city can chose to set aside the property tax as it comes in and use it to reduce property taxes citizens pay in 2011. The money would add up to $110,000. “That would be a reduction of the money flowing into the general fund,” he said.
Council member Bill Gothmann presented research he conducted on a home in Edgecliff and a home in Ponderosa and how much each homeowner will pay the city in taxes in 2010 compared to what was paid in 2009. The Edgecliff homeowner actually saw property taxes drop by $4.02 in 2010 and would get back an additional 52 cents if the city reduces the 2011 tax rate. The property owner in Ponderosa saw a $7.63 rise for the year for 2010 and would get back $1.79 in 2011.
The small amounts involved did not deter other council members. “I’d like to set it aside for the taxpayers,” said council member Dean Grafos.
“I think it’s the principle of the tax,” Grassel said.
The council members agreed to take another look at the proposal in May or June when staff begins looking at the 2011 budget.