The first goal stated by the proposed charter is “to ensure that region wide issues are resolved in the best interests of all citizens of Spokane City-County.” Certainly no issue is more region-wide than managing growth and the questions of land use that accompany growth. Whether the charter improves upon the current structure for making these decisions is, or ought to be, a major factor in whether the charter should or should not be adopted.
Currently, the county has a nine-member, volunteer plan commission, appointed by the county commissioners. The city has a 10-member commission appointed by the council. Residency is the only criterion for selecting members of these bodies. Each commission is charged with making land-use recommendations within its jurisdictions.
The county and the city each prepares a comprehensive plan, which must be coordinated with all jurisdictions in the region. This coordination occurs among elected officials, through interlocal agreement. The plan commissions of the two governments, however, have no formalized working relationship. Neither the city nor the county is able to delegate decision-making authority to its neighborhoods.
Under the charter, a city-county planning commission is comprised of one representative from each of the 13 council districts. Members are nominated by the executive and confirmed by the city-county council. The commission makes recommendations to the city-county council on land use and zoning, and is mandated to produce a new comprehensive plan within four years.
The city-county council may delegate specific decision-making authority on neighborhood-scale planning to District Associations and neighborhoods.
Regulation and development
At present, the county and city have different rules and procedures for developing and using land, including environmentally sensitive areas. Standards and service levels for streets, parks, public safety and other urban facilities and services differ in the city and urbanized areas of the county.
Zoning decisions in the city are made by a professional hearing examiner hired by the council. In the county, these decisions are made by a subcommittee of the planning commission, made up of volunteer lay persons.
The charter calls for the citycounty government to create a new set of common rules and procedures for developing and using all land within its jurisdiction. It also calls for new standards to be adopted for providing public facilities and services in both urban and rural areas.
Zoning decisions come under an office of hearing examiner, created by the charter.
Urban growth areas
Under growth management, Spokane city and county are in direct competition for population growth and urbanized land area, which directly influence the amount of tax revenue each receives, and the cost for public services each incurs. Each city in the county proposes an urban growth area to the county, which makes the final decision designating all urban growth areas.
Similarly, the charter allows each small city to propose an urban growth area, with the city-county making the final designations. But under the charter, the competition between city and county is eliminated.
Now one of the most contentious of governmental issues, annexation becomes virtually a non-issue under the proposed charter. As it now stands, any property owner with land contiguous to the city of Spokane may petition to be annexed. The City Council exercises discretionary authority to approve the petition. Annexations approved by the city must also be approved by the Spokane County Boundary Review Board. This also applies to Spokane County’s other cities.
After Spokane County designates urban growth areas (UGAs) under the Growth Management Act, only lands within an UGA may be annexed.
With the charter in effect, the only annexations would be by petition of property owners with lands contiguous to a small city to join that city. Other lands in the city-county would now be within one jurisdiction, with rural and urban components, making annexations irrelevant.
The city-county’s designation of its urban growth area will identify the areas where the urban services normally sought through annexation can be provided.
Chris Hugo is a member of the Citizens League of Greater Spokane’s board of directors and is the city of Spokane’s program manager for growth management.
xxxx White paper topics This “white paper” on city-county consolidation is one of eight written for the Citizens League of Greater Spokane by members of the organization’s board. All eight are available at city and county libraries, and at Spokane community centers. The Citizens League is the organization that started the drive to reform local government. Members gathered 18,000 signatures in 1992, paving the way for the election of freeholders, who wrote the unified charter that voters will consider this month. Here are the white paper topics and authors: Taxes and costs, by Tom Agnew. Government structure, by Chris Venne. Political representation, by Linda Sharman. Impact on small towns, by Chris Wright. Impact on neighborhoods, by Terren Roloff. Opportunities for citizen involvement in government, by Chris Marr. Impact on government services, by Dean Moorehouse. Impact on land-use planning, by Chris Hugo.
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