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Spokane officials outline first projects in 20-year street levy proposal

Spokane officials released new details Thursday on 11 street improvement projects the city could tackle in the next two years if voters approve a levy they say won’t result in higher taxes.

The street projects would be financed by a 20-year levy proposal the city hopes to place on the Nov. 4 ballot, one of two ballot measures city leaders are proposing.

The other would be a $60 million park bond that would finance a plan to revitalize Riverfront Park. That concept is due to be voted on today by the Spokane Park Board.

With the street levy, the city hopes to raise $100 million over the period to pay for reconstructing streets and curbs. Some of the projects also call for bike lanes, sidewalks, street trees and lighting improvements.

The plan has the backing of liberal and conservative voices on the Spokane City Council.

“You have a pretty common-sense, decent proposal,” said Councilman Mike Fagan, who has been active in local tea party groups. “I don’t think that there is any councilman that would stand in the way of putting this up to the voters.”

Fagan pointed out the current 10-year bond was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Addressing the second phase of the streets plan was part of his – and other councilmembers’ – campaign promise, he said.

But Fagan added that the decisions could be tough for voters, who he said likely will face tax increase proposals for libraries, schools and transit systems in the years to come.

“It’s going to come down to a matter of picking and choosing what your priorities will be,” he said.

Taxpayers already are paying a rate of 57 cents per $1,000 of property value – that’s $57 for a $100,000 property – on voter-approved street taxes. The city plans to ask voters for taxes that will cost the same amount. Under the proposed refinancing plan, the city will use just over half of that new money to repay debt of bonds approved by voters in 2004.

The rest will go to new investments in the streets.

Councilman Jon Snyder said he would need more detail on the projects, but “it’s really important to me that this not just be a repeat of the limited scope” of the 2004 bond plan. He wants a package on the ballot that includes more than “purely doing pavement.”

However, Snyder said he supports the concept of the funding plan.

The council likely will decide in July if the tax proposal should be placed on the November ballot, Snyder said.

“The idea of the levy versus the bond is a good deal for citizens,” Snyder said. “We’re spending more money putting projects into the ground rather than paying interest on a bond. I’d much rather spend money on projects citizens are going to see.”

Utilities spokeswoman Marlene Feist said a levy for ongoing street projects would move the city to a pay-as-you-go system that would hopefully generate matching dollars from state and federal programs. A bond is a more traditional model in which the city would have to pay back funds with interest.

Work on the $117 million street bond of 2004 is nearly finished, but it isn’t scheduled to be paid off for 16 years. If the levy passes, remaining $83 million left to pay on the 2004 bond would be refinanced and paid back with the 20-year levy.

Under state law, the levy proposal requires a simple majority to pass, while the park bond proposal would require 60 percent approval.