Spokane voters to decide on polishing Riverfront Park, fixing streets

TUESDAY, JULY 29, 2014

There was little controversy at Monday’s Spokane City Council meeting, where discussion centered on two big tax measures: to revitalize Riverfront Park and continue funding for street maintenance. Voters may not be so agreeable, but they’ll have a chance to consider the proposal.

After more than an hour of public input, the council unanimously voted to send the innovative financing package to voters on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If approved, the measures would maintain current tax rates at 91 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. But instead of simply paying off old street maintenance debts and park bonds, the city would get $60 million to update Riverfront Park while creating an annually recurring $25 million dedicated to fixing and improving Spokane’s streets.

It’s not magic, but an innovative refinancing scheme devised by Rick Romero, the city’s utilities chief.

Council President Ben Stuckart likened the idea to refinancing a home when interest rates are low.

“Everybody in our community should be rah-rahing this,” he said.

The audience packing the council chambers agreed and applauded. As did all but one of the 18 people who spoke during public testimony.

Louise Chadez, a longtime advocate for social services, said the city was unwise to spend that much money while the city’s poor still struggled.

But from past park board presidents to one enthusiastic 13-year-old girl, everyone else who spoke offered their support.

If approved, Riverfront Park will receive an infusion of money not seen since it was created in the early ’70s. The bulk of the money – $44 million – will go toward renovating the U.S. Pavilion and park grounds, creating a central plaza and beautified gateways to the park. The rest of the money will fund a new home for the Looff Carousel and build an ice rink near City Hall, among other things.

The measures come on the heels of the conclusion of the projects financed with a 2004 street bond, which wrap up this fall under budget and on schedule. The work is done, but the debt isn’t set to be paid off until 2024 or later. The new ballot measures would retire that debt, as well as two park bonds from 1999 and 2007. In turn, the city would be indebted for a new park bond, and property owners would pay a recurring levy to pay for street maintenance.

While all council members agreed to send the measures to the voters, only Mike Fagan spoke against what he saw as the government asking for more money. He noted that other requests to fund public amenities are in the near future, such as a county parks bond in 2015 and a potential measure for public transit.

“Where my colleagues see a light at the end of the tunnel, I see a faint glimmer,” he said.

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