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Washington Voices

Spokane Valley Council rejects new rules

City has other means of regulating lawns, yard waste

The Spokane Valley City Council declined to be the arbiter of grass length in the city when they turned down several proposed changes to the city’s nuisance code Tuesday.

One of the proposed changes was to declare grass or weeds higher than 12 inches a nuisance. That proposal wasn’t well received. “How are we going to enforce it?” said Councilman Arne Woodard.

“I don’t think it’s an essential function of this city to go around measuring grass,” said Councilman Dean Grafos.

There was also some discussion on whether to regulate piles of yard waste that would include grass clippings and brush. Woodard said he often has brush piles on his property. “I have 326 trees on my property,” he said. “Mine might sit there most of the season.”

Amid concerns that the new rules suggested were too restrictive, the council decided to not prohibit piles of vegetation but instead use another section of the code that prohibits such piles if they have been deemed a fire hazard by the fire marshal. “I think we can over-regulate just about anything,” said Mayor Tom Towey.

“I think we should just stay with our existing regulations,” Grafos said. If people don’t like the looks of a vacant lot, “maybe they should just buy it and clean it up,” he said.

The council also discussed the proposed 2013 budget and where street preservation funding would come from. City Manager Mike Jackson has proposed taking an amount equal to 6 percent of the general fund budget for street preservation from several funds the city maintains rather than taking it all from the general fund. Taking it all from the general fund would lead to steep cuts in other city departments, including law enforcement, Jackson said. “It’s easy to think, well, can’t we squeeze a little more out of the budget?” he said.

Jackson also addressed his plan to take money from the city’s ending fund balance, which is the money left over at the end of each year. The balance currently sits at $25.6 million, or 74 percent of the annual general fund budget. Jackson proposes drawing that down to $17.9 million or 51 percent, to pay for the replacement of the Sullivan bridge, new park development, a city hall and capital projects.

“We’re not proposing to spend it at this time,” Jackson said. “We’re allocating it.” Spending any of the money would require a vote from the council, he said.

Jackson said he wants to drop the level of the ending fund balance because he doesn’t think the public would support any new tax for street preservation work in the future if the city has so much money in reserves. “We’re still just in a superb financial position,” he said.

Woodard questioned whether taking so much money out would be deficit spending. Technically it is, said Finance Director Mark Calhoun, but the money is being set aside for one time purposes. “That does drain the reserves down, but this is not for operations,” he said.