The Spokane Valley City Council took its first solid bite at the often mentioned economic development issue, spending nearly two hours discussing how the city should move forward with short and long term goals.
“I know there’s an interest in getting things done as fast as possible to stimulate the economy,” said city manager Mike Jackson.
There are some things the city can do at no cost, Jackson said. If the decision is made to move ahead with a formal economic development plan, the mission of the plan would need to be defined. “I know we have some empty storefronts in town, but those don’t tell the whole story,” he said.
The city is doing what it can to support business by improving the city’s infrastructure, Jackson said. He pointed to the new Barker Bridge, Discovery Playground and the Indiana Avenue extension project. The city also has no business and occupation tax, only one utility tax on telephones and has the second lowest property taxes in Spokane County, he said.
Councilman Dean Grafos suggested using advertising to tout those benefits. “We need to tell our story,” he said.
Community development director Kathy McClung presented information to the council on changes she had made in her department to improve service, including speeding up the permit process. Employees have had customer service training and permit applications typically take less than two weeks, she said.
“That’s a pretty good turnaround time, actually,” Grafos said.
The discussion turned to the informal medical district that exists around Valley Hospital and Medical Center. “Would we have an advantage if we designated a perimeter for the medical district?” said Mayor Tom Towey.
Jackson said there probably would be a benefit. “I think there’s some real marketing advantages to doing that,” he said.
Grafos cautioned against penalizing some parts of the city in favor of others in setting up a district. “I just don’t want us to go down the same path as SARP,” he said.
The city can offer various incentives, but it cannot waive fees because that would be considered a gift of public funds, Jackson said. The city could set up a tax increment finance district, a business improvement district, an empowerment zone, local improvement districts or offer multi-family housing tax credits. Several of those options include some sort of tax levied against businesses in a specified area that would pay for public improvements in only that area. Others provide tax credits or use increases in property or sales taxes to pay for improvements.
“There is a lot of debate on the effectiveness and cost return on incentives,” Jackson said.
The city could take a first step by adding important links to its web site, Grafos said. Many of the links he suggested, however, are already on the city’s web site, including a staff directory, a link to the STA bus schedule site and a link to the Spokane County business site selector.
“I think we need to state this implicitly,” said councilman Bill Gothmann. “This is an expansion of government.” The expansion is intended to be a public benefit, but it is an expansion, he said.
Grassel suggested putting together a roundtable discussion with members of the various organizations like the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Sports Commission to brainstorm ideas. “I think that would be an excellent starting point,” she said.
The council also discussed putting swale landscaping along Sprague Avenue in the 2012 budget using stormwater funds, but held off on making a final decision. In addition to improving stormwater handling, the project would spruce up a bare section of Sprague. Councilman Bill Gothmann said there is only limited money in the stormwater fund and he wanted to see other possible uses for the money. “I’d like to know what projects we’re not doing,” he said.
In other business, the council also discussed a $34,812 Justice Assistance Grant for the Spokane Valley Police Department. This year the department wants to spend the money to implement the National Incident Based Reporting System software and pay for data encryption aircards and ammunition.
The department is required to use data encryption to connect their in-car computers to the State crime databases. The department will also be required to begin using the NIBRS system beginning next year, said Police Chief Rick Van Leuven. “We are currently not using it,” he said. “That’s a new system.”
Towey said that the grant allows the city to take 10 percent of the amount to cover administrative costs. “I notice we didn’t have that in the paperwork,” he said.
Senior administrative analyst Morgan Koudelka said the city previously decided to use all the grant money for law enforcement and absorb the administrative costs. Grafos said the grant likely wouldn’t require much staff time. “I would rather just absorb the cost,” he said.
The grant expenditures are scheduled to come before the council for final approval at the July 12 council meeting.