February 12, 2013 in City

Spokane voters approve library tax

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

Spokane voters on Tuesday easily approved a City Charter amendment giving the police ombudsman more authority and a tax to ensure that branch libraries won’t close.

The most debated proposal on the city ballot, a rule increasing the threshold in City Council votes needed to raise taxes to five of seven members, had a slight lead after Tuesday’s counting.

Tuesday’s ballot contained the first library-only tax for the Spokane Public Library since voters approved construction of the city’s branches in 1990.

Library leaders warned that without the tax neighborhood branches that are currently open 22 ½ hours a week would face closure next year. With the tax, they likely will return to full-time hours in 2014 for the first time in a decade.

“It’s a huge improvement and frankly it feels fantastic to be able to offer the kind of service that we should have been offering for years,” said Spokane Public Library Director Pat Partovi, who was at a campaign victory party at Global Credit Union in downtown Spokane. “It’s going to be hard to wait.”

The four-year library tax plan, called a levy lid lift, had wide support from the city’s elected leadership. Only Councilman Mike Fagan opposed the proposal, which will increase taxes by $7 a year on a property assessed at $100,000.

The supermajority rule, Proposition 2 was leading with 50.7 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s count.

After Wednesday’s mail arrives, about 10,000 ballots will be left to count countywide, said Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin. Nearly 40,000 ballots were tallied Tuesday.

The proposition attracted significant attention on both sides of the political landscape, with the Spokane County Republican Party, some conservative and business groups supporting it and the Spokane County Democratic Party and unions opposed.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who led the effort to put it on the ballot, said she was excited about the results but that more counting is needed before supporters can declare victory.

“It looks like the majority of the residents in this city believe that this is a reasonable taxpayer protection policy,” McLaughlin said.

Councilman Ben Stuckart, who opposed the supermajority stipulation, said given strong voter support for rules requiring supermajority votes from the Legislature to raise taxes, the fight against Proposition 2 was uphill.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not crying in my spilled milk,” he said, adding that it was too early to say for sure it will pass.

Spokane voters were most united about Proposition 1, adding the office of the police ombudsman to the city charter and calling for the ombudsman to have the power to investigate alleged police misconduct independently of the police department. That measure had 69 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s count.

It’s unclear if placing the measure in the City Charter will guarantee that the ombudsman will get the new authority. Police union officials argue that they still must agree to the rules before they become effective. Others say that the city won’t be able to agree to a union contract that contradicts the charter.

“It’s a step in the direction of saying that this is something the citizens have asked for and it’s here to stay,” McLaughlin said.

Meanwhile, voters in the East Valley School District rejected a tax to pay for a performing arts center, athletic facilities and other building improvements, with 63 percent opposed in the first round of counting. It needed 60 percent support to pass.

The decision marked the fifth time since 2008 that East Valley voters rejected a tax to pay for construction projects.

“I’m disappointed, obviously,” said Kerri Lunstroth, East Valley School District Board chairwoman. “The need is still there. We’ll have to work with our community and find out why they’re not in support of this.

The Orchard Prairie School District won its maintenance and operations levy, with about 75 percent support after Tuesday’s count.

Spokane County Fire District 13, which serves the Newman Lake area, won approval for Emergency Medical Services Levy with nearly 71 percent support.

Voters in the town of Rockford rejected a law enforcement tax, with nearly 69 percent in opposition.

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