October 31, 2013 in City

Spokane Valley council won’t back tax to help move homes near Fairchild

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane Valley City Council won’t support a new tax to move homes out of Fairchild Air Force Base’s crash zone, saying county commissioners should have tried harder to find the money elsewhere.

Proposition 1 on Tuesday’s ballot would raise as much as $18 million in property taxes over nine years to buy manufactured home parks on the south side of Airway Heights and pay to relocate hundreds of people living there.

“We believe that any consideration of added tax should be the last option after all options have been exhausted,” Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey and the council said in a letter to county commissioners. The council approved the wording of the letter on Tuesday.

Commissioners, who have laid off county workers and held back on salaries in recent years, said their only option is the tax increase because money is so tight for cops, courts and other county services.

Commissioners are asking voters to raise their taxes by 6.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, costing the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $12.60 a year.

The Spokane Valley City Council wouldn’t even allow county Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn to speak during a regular meeting about the tax measure, she said.

In contrast, the Spokane City Council opened the floor to Commissioner Al French last week. The council then voted 4-1 to endorse the measure with tax-foe Councilman Mike Fagan voting no.

Removing the mobile homes would meet Air Force standards for land use around air bases and help protect Fairchild from future base closures, commissioners have said. The 188 housing units are at the northeast end of the Fairchild runway.

Commissioners said Fairchild’s economic benefit far outstrips the cost of the tax, generating $1.3 billion in economic activity a year.

French said individual property tax bills would rise if Fairchild closes because property values across the area would fall.

Commissioner O’Quinn said: “The return on investment in my opinion is very obvious.”

The letter from Spokane Valley acknowledges the economic value of Fairchild. The letter also acknowledges the multiyear effort by local governments to rewrite land-use laws to protect Fairchild.

But it says that “the citizens should decide the merits of the ballot. The city of Spokane Valley will fully support the decision of citizens.”

The letter came as voters cast mail-in ballots in four Spokane Valley City Council races, in which all eight candidates have taken no-tax stands.

Towey in an interview declined to say whether he supports the measure personally.

He said the letter merely outlines the council’s longstanding view of tax increases – that they should be a last option and should go to voters. “It’s a statement of our position,” he said.

French said, “It sounds like a position that is no position at all.”

The county has conditional purchase agreements with the park owners. Sales prices would be set by appraisal if voters approve the measure. The county plans to work with each of the 119 residents who own their own structures to relocate them or find new housing. Other residents in rentals would also receive relocation help.

Any subsequent property sales by the county would go to reduce the cost of the project. The land would be made available for light industry, which is approved by Air Force standards.

A group headed by Catholic Charities is working on developing an affordable housing complex northeast of Airway Heights to accommodate many of the residents. That project is separate from the tax measure.

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