Spokane Valley Fire Department Chief Mike Thompson was surprised to be rebuffed when he asked earlier this month to make a presentation at a Spokane Valley City Council meeting.
The department has a three-year replacement levy on the ballot in August that would keep the tax rate the same as this year’s. It accounts for more than half the department’s budget and a failed levy would have a catastrophic effect, including the closure of six of the department’s 10 stations. With so much on the line Thompson is eager to spread the word about the levy.
Organizations that have a bond or levy on the ballot usually make the rounds, giving presentations about their cause to city councils, service groups and business organizations.
Thompson is already on the agenda for a Millwood City Council meeting and has contacted Liberty Lake about making a presentation there. He didn’t anticipate any problems with the city of Spokane Valley, since the department was allowed to make presentations for previous levies in 2007 and 2009.
“I’m disappointed,” Thompson said. “I would think that since we provide services to their constituents they would at least be interested in knowing what it all means. It’s a public safety issue.”
Thompson said he was told by City Manager Mike Jackson that the council wasn’t interested in hearing anything about a new tax. “I tried to explain to him that this was not a new tax,” Thompson said. “We’re not asking for any more money. It’s just a replacement.”
Thompson said he made it clear he wasn’t seeking an endorsement from the council, just wanted to present information.
Mayor Tom Towey said he was concerned that if the city let the Fire Department make a presentation, they would be obligated to allow for a rebuttal presentation. “We have to make sure that we are neutral on levies and ballot issues.”
The mayor’s explanation seems to contradict past practices. The Fire Department was allowed to make similar levy presentations in the past and as recently as Nov. 1 the council allowed representatives of the Spokane Public Facilities District to make a presentation during a council meeting about Measure 1, a ballot item that raised the sales tax to expand the Convention Center downtown and add seats to the Spokane Arena.
In January, a representative of the Spokane County Library District spoke during a council meeting about the district’s facilities master plan and included information about a planned bond in 2015 and what it would pay for.
Towey also said that three or more council members must request that an item be added to a meeting agenda, but that procedure is usually only followed when a council member has a special request. Towey and Jackson meet weekly to set the meeting agendas without the input of other council members.
“We’ve never had to do that in the past,” Thompson said of the three councilperson requirement. He usually contacts the city clerk to ask for time at a meeting and the clerk passes on the request to the city manager to be added to the agenda, he said.
Thompson said he will prepare an information packet about the levy and ask that it be distributed to all the council members. “That’s about all we can do, I guess,” he said.