OLYMPIA – Spokane County voters could create a port district for the entire county under a bill approved Friday afternoon by the House. They could approve the district in a special election and elect its three commissioners, who could decide how much taxes to collect in the next general election.
On an 81-16 vote, the House approved a temporary change to the state’s law on setting up the districts, which raise money through taxes to develop property that can attract new or expanded businesses.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, the bill’s sponsor, said many communities throughout the state have port districts and the lack of such a political entity in Spokane creates “a big hole” for economic development. Creating a port district has been a top priority for the business development group Greater Spokane Incorporated, he said.
Spokane has a service-based economy, said a co-sponsor, Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney. “We have a lot of opportunity, if you want to serve fries. We don’t have much of an industrial base.”
Some companies have said they won’t select a site in Spokane because it doesn’t have a port district, Holy said.
Originally, state law allowed county commissioners or voters to place a proposal to create a port district on the ballot and elect the three district commissioners at the same time. In 2014, the Legislature changed the law to allow commissioners to place a port district that covered part of their county on a ballot in one election and, if it passes, have voters elect the district commissioners in a later election. The district couldn’t levy a property tax until the commissioners took office.
The new law expands that to allow the new port district to cover the entire county, if the election is before the end of 2020.
Spokane last voted on a port district and commissioners in 1982. In that election, a total of 31 candidates vied for three seats. Tom Garrett, Jack O’Brien and Kathy Reid won those races, but had no office to take because voters turned down the district by nearly 4-to-1.