The Spokane Valley City Council approved a flat property tax for 2014 Tuesday night, but not without some dissent from Councilman Ben Wick.
Wick said he was concerned that the city has too many financial responsibilities to not take the 1 percent property tax increase allowed, which would add $109,000 to the city’s coffers. The city’s budget is only $500 in the black; if revenue generated by new construction comes in lower than anticipated the city will have a deficit, he said. There is also talk about adding new police officers to a public safety budget that is already going up $1.2 million over the 2013 cost, he said.
“I just don’t see that we can do all these things without doing something,” he said.
Collecting the 1 percent tax increase would at least protect the city from a budget shortfall, Wick said. “This is our only chance of doing this,” he said.
Wick’s arguments failed to sway the other six members of the council, however. Several of them pointed out that the city has $362,000 in banked property tax capacity that the city can take in future years if needed.
“You’d be absolutely correct in your assessment if the economy was static,” said Councilman Arne Woodard. “It’s not.” The city’s sales tax revenues are up and will be enough to cover the increased costs, Woodard said.
“There’s a time to tax and there’s a time not to tax,” said Mayor Tom Towey. “We’re not at the stage where we absolutely need that 1 percent.”
The city’s first priority should be to attract new jobs, said Councilman Dean Grafos, not “nickel and diming the citizens.”
Wick asked his fellow council members if they would be willing to reconsider their positions if things start to unravel. “I don’t want to take the 1 percent either, really, but at the same time I don’t want to lose the traction we have on street preservation and public safety.”
Wick cast the only vote against approving the 2014 property tax level. This is the fifth year the council has voted against taking the allowed 1 percent increase.
In other business, the council unanimously approved the 2014 budget. The projected general fund revenues are $37.4 million, which is slightly more than 4 percent above the 2013 budget of $35.2 million. The city will dip into its reserves to pay for $586,000 in one-time expenses such as new chairs for CenterPlace and improvements to the police precinct.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Stone unveiled the final proposed design for an expanded Balfour Park and new library on land at Sprague Avenue and Herald Road. It is the same design presented to the community for input at a public meeting in September and it received rave reviews, Stone said. “It’s been an exciting process,” he said.
The park will have plenty of green space in addition to a large picnic shelter, stage, reading garden and trails. “This will be a community gathering space,” Stone said. “We’re so excited to have a park on Sprague.”
The council will vote later this month whether to accept the design. The council will also vote on whether to approve a request from the Spokane County Library District to create a capital facilities area that would include Spokane Valley, Millwood and portions of unincorporated Spokane County. The library district wants to put a construction bond on the ballot in the spring that would go out to only the homes within the capital facilities area boundaries. The bond would pay to build a new Spokane Valley Library branch on the park site as well as a new neighborhood branch on Conklin Road and improvements at the Argonne Library.