The Spokane County Commission is proposing a temporary tax increase to help protect thousands of jobs and fend off a crippling economic blow. Voting no is a gamble the community shouldn’t take.
The Pentagon is downsizing its workforce and officials believe the military already has more infrastructure than it needs. It’s anticipating a new round of base closures in 2015 or 2017. Along with the drawdown of military personnel, the Pentagon’s latest budget request includes the elimination of 50,000 civilian positions.
Though members of Congress are reluctant to endure another excruciating round of the Base Realignment and Closure process, it looks inevitable. And so, once again, the community must hold its breath to see whether Fairchild Air Force Base, the region’s largest employer, survives.
However, the Spokane area can be proactive to preserve the base, which provides more than 5,000 military and civilian jobs and sustains thousands of others. One of the key determinants of whether a base is closed is encroachment. The military looks at the current development around the base and also peers a couple decades into the future to discern whether there’s enough space to continue the mission.
With that in mind, the cities of Spokane, Airway Heights and Medical Lake, along with Spokane County, have adopted new zoning to help protect the base. But some potential encroachment dangers still exist. We’re opposed to the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino near the base because we believe it presents a threat.
Similarly, some mobile home parks beneath a base flight path could translate into demerits on the BRAC scorecard. The military wants to minimize tragedies should a plane crash occur. Revenue from the temporary property tax increase would be used to purchase the parks and relocate the residents.
Voter approval is needed to lift the annual levy lid placed on taxing authorities. The measure would raise 7 to 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which translates into $15 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home. The tax would expire in nine years, when the relocation effort is expected to be completed.
Moving people from their homes isn’t being taken lightly. Catholic Charities, Community Frameworks, Habitat for Humanity, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the cities of Airway Heights and Spokane, Spokane County and Greenstone Corp. are collaborating on a housing project. Representatives of this coalition have gone door to door to explain the situation, and they report that most residents are receptive. Many live in substandard housing and would look forward to an improvement. Some aren’t fond of living in a flight path.
The collaborative nature of this effort reflects the consensus that preserving Fairchild Air Force Base is paramount. Other communities are taking steps to preserve their military installations, so the Spokane region would be foolish to sit back and hope for the best.
We think the proponents of Proposition 1 have made a sound case, and we urge residents to vote yes.