Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Fog 32° Fog
News >  Spokane

Valley Council votes to endorse transit tax plan

Mike DeVleming has a sign in his yard that says “vote yes” to increase taxes for Spokane Transit Authority bus services.

But the Spokane Valley mayor voted no Tuesday to a City Council motion that formally endorsed the proposed 0.3 percent, three-year tax increase that’s on the ballot next week.

“I just don’t know if this is the appropriate venue,” he said.

Despite no votes from DeVleming and Councilmen Steve Taylor and Gary Schimmels, the council approved the bus-tax endorsement 4-3. Like DeVleming, Schimmels supports the tax increase but opposed taking a stand as a council. Taylor said he plans to vote against the issue next week.

“Everyone up here campaigned (for office) in favor of economic development,” Councilman Mike Flanigan said. Bus service and economic development “go hand in hand,” he said.

If voters reject the ballot issue next week, STA says it will have to slash local bus service by about 40 percent and reduce paratransit bus service for people with disabilities by 17 percent. That would mean no more bus service after 7 p.m. on weekdays and no bus service at all on Sundays, among other cuts.

Spokane Valley resident Glen Kivett, 79, applauded the council for endorsing the tax increase. He said many of his neighbors earn minimum wage and rely on buses to take them to and from work.

“As a moral obligation, we’ve got to take care of these people,” Kivett said.

Most who spoke out Tuesday didn’t share Kivett’s sentiment.

Spokane resident Marvin Newcomb, 52, carried a sign into the meeting that read “No new transit tax.” Another man wore a pin with a similar message.

Newcomb criticized STA for years of sloppy spending habits.

“When a person has buckets of money, they spend it anywhere,” he said. “(STA) has no clue how to spend money.”

Newcomb and other speakers used the downtown Spokane bus plaza, which they called “the palace,” as an example of STA’s irresponsible fiscal practices. STA built the plaza in 1995 for about $20 million.

But there has been a change of leadership at STA, and some council members argued that the organization has made significant changes in how it manages money and resources.

“The only argument I’m hearing (opponents make) is ‘We have to punish the people that performed poorly in the past,’ ” Flanigan said.

The council invited STA CEO Kim Zentz to present objective information about the ballot issue and former Spokane City Councilman Joel Crosby to speak against it. No one from the yes campaign was invited to make a presentation.

Zentz tried to assure the public that STA has made positive changes and would use the revenues generated by the tax increase efficiently.

“We have established performance objectives that we are encouraging the community to hold us accountable to,” she said.

Crosby didn’t sound convinced.

“A no vote sends a strong message to STA that we want them to reform,” he said after Zentz’s presentation. “They’ve just spent right up to the end.”

Crosby said he often sees empty buses on the road, “belching pollution.”

Many audience members applauded loudly after Crosby spoke. One man clapped so hard his cheeks shook.

But the council sided with the tax increase to avoid what Councilman Richard Munson called “Draconian cuts in service.”

“The social consequences of this type of situation are significant,” he said.

After the meeting, DeVleming said Tuesday’s endorsement could open the council up to requests for endorsements of future ballot issues or causes. Councilman Dick Denenny said addressing bus-service needs is a special circumstance, because it affects the entire Spokane area.

Munson added, “This is an important enough issue that voters should know where we stand on this.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.