Spokane Valley City Council postpones decision on property taxes

The Spokane Valley City Council had a lengthy debate over whether it should raise property taxes by the allowed 1 percent in 2013, with some council members adamantly against it while another called it a “slight” increase.

The 1 percent increase would collect an additional $108,000, which amounts to $1.20 per home per year, said Finance Director Mark Calhoun.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he will not vote to increase the tax. “What you’re talking about is a property tax increase,” he said.

Mayor Tom Towey said he wanted to keep the proposal alive through the budget process so the council could hear public testimony on topic. The tax supports the numerous projects the city wants to do, he said, and there is a consequence if the city doesn’t increase the property tax while inflation continues to go up. “We’re losing money,” he said.

“A tax increase should be the last resort, not a first one,” Grafos said.

“One percent does not keep pace with 2 to 3 percent inflation,” said City Manager Mike Jackson. “We are being ambitious. We’re adding projects and programs. We’ve made a lot of reductions.”

“We have to look at where we are economically,” said Councilman Arne Woodard. The city does have major projects going on and 1 percent isn’t a lot of money, he said. “It’s symbolic almost.”

Councilman Ben Wick said he agreed with Towey and thought the council should wait for Jackson’s report on the proposed budget before making a decision on the property tax.

“I feel like right now we’re shooting in the dark,” he said.

If the city doesn’t collect enough money it will have to cut services, said Councilman Chuck Hafner. “We’re not here to make a profit,” he said. “We are not a business organization. We are a service organization.”

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she wasn’t in favor of increasing the property tax. “I might want to look at reducing it,” she said.

Councilman Gary Schimmels said he didn’t think the council was being honest with itself by debating a “slight” tax increase while also considering several new projects.

“If you don’t collect that this year, you’ll never be able to replace it,” he said.

The council agreed to wait to make any decision on the proposed property tax increase.

In other business, the council voted to award the contract for a sidewalk infill project on Pines Road between 16th and 24th avenues to the William Winkler Co. for $477,235. The company actually had the higher of two bids, but was recommended for the contract because the only other bidder, Cameron-Reilly, didn’t meet the bid requirements, said senior capital projects engineer Steve Worley.

The project is funded in part by a federal grant, which means that 5 percent of the bid has to go to a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, said Worley. Cameron-Reilly’s bid did not include a DBE subcontractor, Worley said. “Staff recommends moving forward,” he said.

The two bids came in higher than the staff’s estimate of $343,000, likely because it’s late in the season when most contractors have plenty of work, Worley said. The project was delayed from its planned date because of the time it took the city to get right of way approval from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Worley said.

The council also heard short presentations from 10 outside agencies who are requesting economic development funding from the city. The city’s budget includes $150,000 for economic development agencies and social service agencies, who will make their requests at Tuesday’s meeting.

Towey said the 10 economic development agencies and 12 social service agencies have requested a total of $344,578, more than double the amount the city has available. “We would like to support them all, but we won’t be able to,” he said.

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