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Fri., Nov. 8, 2013

Editorial: Region can’t afford to lose sight of protecting Fairchild

The results of the Proposition 1 election indicate that the small impact of the temporary property tax increase weighed more heavily on many voters than the large economic blow that would come from Fairchild Air Force Base closing due to encroachment.

The county was hoping to raise $18 million over nine years to purchase seven mobile home parks and move residents out of the base’s “accident potential zone.” Doing so would ward off encroachment demerits during the next round of military base closings, which is expected to occur in 2015 or 2017.

“They just couldn’t afford it,” said Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing of lower-income voters near the base. This was apparently a key consideration for many voters, but it is shortsighted.

The estimated cost would’ve been $6.30 a year, or about 50 cents a month, on a homeowner with property valued at $100,000; even less for residents in lower-value housing. By contrast, a shuttered Fairchild would cost homeowners in most county jurisdictions about $100 a year, according to county calculations. That’s based on about 6,000 people leaving and home values dropping by an estimated 7 percent due to oversupply in the market. This doesn’t include the domino effect on businesses that depend on the base’s existence.

The outcome of the vote is disappointing, but the region can’t afford to let it stand. The good news is that there were signs the electorate would be more amenable if it knew the stakes.

For one thing, it looks like the number of undervotes – meaning voters left the choice blank – will exceed the margin of victory. Spokane County Commissioner Al French says this highlights an opportunity to win more votes with a more extensive educational campaign. French said the measure succeeded in the communities where commissioners were able to explain the issue.

Spokane Valley was a notable exception. The City Council would not let Commissioner Shelley O’Quinn testify. The council declined to endorse the measure, saying in a letter that the county hadn’t explored other options. If the council had listened, it might’ve learned otherwise.

Spokane City Council did endorse the measure, with the lone dissent coming from Councilman Mike Fagan, who noted that defeat of a regional animal control tax led to an alternative solution. True. But that was a much smaller request for a project that could be, and was, scaled back.

French says the coalition of nonprofits and developers who were working on low-income housing options for displaced people is hanging together. The nonprofits plan to approach the Legislature again to ask for some help. The county will also be lobbying for funds in an account the state established to ward off base closings. Those efforts could chip away at the local burden, but voters may still need to approve some funding.

This election was a setback, but the region’s leaders must bounce back, band together and complete the critical mission of preserving Fairchild.

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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:

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