November 21, 2012 in Opinion

Editorial: Mayor taking right approach to tax hikes

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

Spokane home and business owners should not have to accept an annual increase in property taxes.

That the city can boost the levy each year by 1 percent – $4.50 per year on a home assessed at $150,000 – does not mean that it has to. Nevertheless, the city has indeed imposed the increase every year but one since voters capped the annual increases at 1 percent in 2001. So, that 1 percent over a decade becomes 10 percent (without compounding), and that $4.50 becomes something like $45.

That’s a monthly Starbuck’s budget for some, but for the many homeowners living on fixed incomes, $45 hurts. Social Security recipients can look forward to a 1.7 percent bump in their monthly checks Jan. 1. Big whoop.

So the stand taken by the four City Council members who rejected the next 1 percent – Mike Allen, Mike Fagan, Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Salvatori – is welcome. That is also the position taken by Mayor David Condon, whose 2013 budget also limits increases in city utility taxes to 3.5 percent, practically a tax holiday compared with hikes the past few years.

The property tax increase would have generated about $360,000 in revenues to the city’s general fund.

Increase supporter and Council President Ben Stuckart says leaving that money on the table translates into more cuts in fire service, probably at Fire Station No. 9 at 1722 S. Bernard St., which serves an area that encompasses the mayor’s home.

Stuckart ally Jon Snyder equated levy opposition to a demeaning of public safety work. Both are looking at the wrong side of the equation.

As we have noted before, the firefighters have for at least a decade shown a willingness to sacrifice bargaining unit members in order to win salary gains for the survivors. It will happen again under a newly approved contract. There are 37 fewer firefighters than there were a decade ago – a reduction of more than 10 percent – yet the Fire Department still consumes about 21 percent of general funds.

The beginning salary, $50,299 plus benefits, is the bottom rung on a ladder that leads to one of $85,567 after 30 years – assuming no more increases. When the city last advertised positions, which is done every two years, there were 732 applicants. In 2010, eight of 10 of the highest paid city employees were Fire Department chiefs or battalion commanders, all of whom with overtime took home at least $160,000.

Even with the sizable pay increases Condon wants for three of the city’s finance officials, and the human resources director, none would make more than $144,000. The city could not find an acceptable applicant for the treasurer’s position despite offering as much as $113,000 for the job.

Restructuring of executive, “exempt” positions will save $840,000, part of an overall $10 million cost-cutting effort that will include the elimination of 100 city positions. That cannot continue.

The city will need more revenue. But the mayor is doing the right thing by attacking the expenditure side first. The new firefighter contract is a setback. Tough talks with the Police Guild continue. The stay on property tax hikes may be only a one-year phenomenon, but the taxpayers will take it.


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