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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City wants ability to place tax levies before voters

Spokane city officials want something that school districts have: the ability to put property tax levies before voters to fund basic city services such as police and fire.

On Monday, the Spokane City Council issued a call for a state constitutional amendment to expand the city’s taxing authority.

However, any constitutional amendment would have to be approved by voters statewide, and then any local increase in property taxes through an “excess” levy would have to be approved by Spokane voters. The city is asking for authority for 6-year levies.

Currently, school districts routinely go to voters with multi-year levies for maintenance and operations.

Budget cuts this year at Spokane City Hall have left officials looking for new ways to raise revenue. The city cut 72 police and fire positions in its 2005 budget.

The request for a constitutional amendment was part of wide-ranging legislative agenda for 2005, which was approved unanimously by the council on Monday.

The legislative agenda touches on economic development, health care, transportation, tort reform, criminal justice, water quality and grant funding.

The council threw its support behind the Fox Theater group’s $4.5 million request from the state capital budget. It also supported funding for an aerospace museum, a kayak park, a science center building at Michael Anderson Plaza and a number of college construction projects.

Councilwoman Mary Verner called for a study on nonpoint sources of pollution entering the Spokane River. She wants the study so Spokane and surrounding jurisdictions can find new ways to bring the river into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, particularly as the region seeks to expand its treated sewage discharges into the river.

Nonpoint sources of pollution include storm runoff containing fertilizer, soil and agricultural wastes.

Council members voted unanimously to include that request in the city’s legislative agenda.

Verner also pointed out that the city’s support for freeway construction through East Spokane comes at a price, the loss of homes and businesses that would be taken for right-of-way. She said she will push for measures to provide mitigation for the losses to the neighborhood.

Councilman Bob Apple described the legislative agenda as a “wish-list” that draws together differing views on any number of issues.

In economic development, the council called on lawmakers to provide even more incentives to business development through tax breaks, including a broader use of community empowerment zones.

The legislative agenda calls for modifications of the “joint and several” liability doctrine, which makes local governments responsible for larger damages than they might if liability were limited to the share of damages for which a city could be held directly accountable.

In health care, the city is seeking equitable state reimbursements for uninsured patients seeking treatment at area hospitals. Unpaid care to the poor has become a big financial drain on Spokane-area hospitals.

In criminal justice, the city is opposing any change that might allow fireworks in the city. Currently, the state allows local governments to ban fireworks. They are banned in most of Spokane County.

Council members said they are planning a light business agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting at 6 p.m. in City Hall to leave more time for downtown-area neighborhood leaders to address the council during a town hall meeting. City Hall is closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the council will meet on Tuesday instead of Monday.

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