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County offers to split new tax revenue with cities

Sat., July 27, 2013, midnight

Spokane County commissioners have made an offer they hope the city of Spokane can’t refuse: to split new revenue from development of the West Plains.

The county and Spokane International Airport have about 5,600 acres of prime land on the West Plains that is zoned for light industrial uses and served by the airport, an interstate highway and rail lines. While the land sits in the unincorporated county, sewer and water service comes from the city of Spokane.

The county wants to invest in infrastructure to develop the property. Yet commissioners don’t want their efforts to result in the property being annexed, which would leave the county unable to collect a finanical return – in the form of tax proceeds – on its efforts, Spokane County Commissioner Al French said Friday. Cities are given broad annexation powers under state law.

So the county floated a proposal to city officials: As development occurs, split any new tax revenue 50-50. That split would continue even if the property is annexed.

The county would prefer “50 percent of a growing revenue base rather than 100 percent of nothing,” French said.

For its part, the city would get the other half of those revenue streams without having to pay for police and fire protection.

Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer, said city officials are “pretty excited” by the overture and have expanded discussions beyond the West Plains and beyond a simple revenue share.

“This isn’t about splitting up the pie, this is about maximizing economic growth in the region,” he said.

French said the discussions are part of an effort to be more thoughtful and regionally focused about growth and development.

“We are a region; we should be functioning that way,” he said.

County officials first approached the city about the proposal last fall.

Discussions grew more serious this spring, and Cooley said a city task force is meeting every Monday to talk about the proposal.

French said the county expects to announce several new developments this fall, and the city won’t be eligible to share revenue from those if the agreement hasn’t been finalized. Cooley said the city is working under an aggressive timetable for deliberations.

An agreement would require the approval of both the County Commission and the City Council.

The county has made the same revenue-sharing offer to the city of Airway Heights.

Development Services Director Derrick Braaten said that city is interested in the proposal.

“The devil’s in the details,” he said, but “everything out here has gotten to the point where we need to work together.”

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