In a surprising move, the Spokane Valley City Council unanimously approved the city’s new Bike and Pedestrian Master Program on Tuesday.
The plan had been heavily scrutinized by council members, several of whom suggested wording changes along the way. At the Oct. 11 meeting, councilmen Chuck Hafner and Arne Woodard voted against advancing the plan to a second and final reading.
Hafner said he met with city staff and had his questions answered to his satisfaction. Woodard, who has been one of the plans most vocal opponents, said he still believes the plan should focus more on sidewalks for the elderly, children and disabled. “I’m going to vote for it tonight with some reservations,” he said.
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the plan and no one testified against it. Resident Cathy Harris called it a “win-win” for the city because it will help the city get grants for projects without mandating anything. “I think this is a really good deal for the city,” said resident Art Zack. “I ask you to approve this plan.”
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said the original plan wasn’t right for the city, but changes had been made. “Get out there and ride your bikes now that the bike lanes are in,” she said.
In other business, the council dealt quickly with several issues they had already discussed several times. They unanimously approved a 2012 property tax levy rate that does not include an increase in taxes. Residents will pay an estimated $1.52 per $1,000 in assessed home value. Other unanimous votes advanced ordinances to create a franchise agreement with Bonneville Power and to set the 2012 budget.
Finance director Mark Calhoun said the city is planning for no increase in sales tax income in 2012, though for the last two months collections have been up about 5 percent. “Two months doesn’t make a trend,” he said.
The council also approved applying for a Community Development Block Grant to pay for a grind and overlay of the eastbound lanes of Sprague Avenue between Havana and Fancher. “We are talking about a preservation project, correct?” said Grassel.
“It’s rated pretty low as far as the condition of the road,” said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. The road is deteriorated enough that if the city doesn’t do a grind and overlay very soon the road will have to be ripped out and replaced, Kersten said.
Woodard said he has driven that stretch of road recently. “I can certainly see where the deterioration is,” he said.
A public hearing was held to present changes to the city’s 2011 income and expenses that require a budget amendment. The city received several grants it hadn’t budgeted for and also purchased a new public works facility, a new snowplow and new permit software.
Another unanimous vote approved paying an additional $2,895 to the Spokane Regional Transportation Council to help pay for a budget shortfall. All jurisdictions that fund SRTC, including Spokane and Spokane County, were asked for additional payments as well. “We had some odd circumstances,” said Councilman Gary Schimmels, who also sits on the SRTC board of directors. He recommended approving the additional money as a one-time increase. “This is just going to cover us for our shortfall this year,” he said.
Some council members questioned a resolution to set the city’s fees for 2012. The city was only suggesting one fee change, but the list also included charges by the Spokane Valley Fire Department that were increased by as much as 14 percent. Those fees are pass-through fees collected by the city and turned over to the fire department to pay for their work. “I wanted to know if we had any say in that,” said Grassel.
According to a report from Valley Fire, the fees for things like the review of plans for new sprinklers and fire alarms have not been adjusted since 2009. The increases “only reflect the cost of the actual time our fire protection engineer spends reviewing plans for permits issued by the city of Spokane Valley.” The report also notes that the interlocal agreement between the city and the fire department states that the city “shall pay the district for the cost of services provided under this agreement.”
“They are an independent jurisdiction,” said City Attorney Cary Driskell. The city could try to amend the interlocal agreement so it doesn’t have to include the fire department’s fees in its list of fees, Driskell said.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” said Schimmels. “That’s all I can say.” The council voted unanimously to approve the fee changes.