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Idea back for port district

Sat., Sept. 24, 2011

Voters defeated proposal in ’82, last time on ballot

Spokane-based Greater Spokane Incorporated is launching a preliminary study to determine whether area voters would support a port district.

Mentioned during the recent GSI annual meeting, the idea of a port district has resurfaced several times among proponents, who say it can help economic development.

GSI CEO and President Rich Hadley said Friday that the group will likely create a task force from area officials and business leaders to study the idea.

In 1982, Spokane business leaders put a port district to a vote and saw it defeated resoundingly, 4 to 1.

State law allows counties and government bodies to form a port district and raise funds through taxes. Port districts can be formed anywhere regardless of proximity to water or an airport.

Hadley said Spokane leaders met with officials from Benton County and Moses Lake, both of which have used port districts to boost economic activity.

Moses Lake used its district in 1998 to enlist a large expansion by Genie Industries, which makes construction equipment. Genie built a manufacturing plant there after port officials spent $2.5 million renovating a former airplane hangar for company use.

Districts can focus on adding infrastructure to attract businesses or help existing firms expand. That can range from building new roads to adding utility lines, Hadley said. They also serve as marketing arms, encouraging new investment.

Spokane and Yakima are the only two Washington counties without port districts, he added.

In 2000, area officials studied the port district idea but shelved it when momentum failed to generate sufficient interest.

Hadley said if the task force finds the port district idea worth sending to voters, he doubts a vote would occur before 2013. While a district would strengthen economic development options, it would be challenging to educate voters and gain their approval to adopt a new taxing system in a difficult economy, he said.

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