Spokane Mayor Jim West on Monday outlined a tax-increase plan that he said could restore some police, fire and library services cut from the 2005 city budget.
In announcing his plan for shoring up Spokane’s ailing budget, the mayor appeared to be moving to regain his leadership role in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations that first surfaced in May.
He announced his plan during a meeting Monday morning of the City Council’s public safety committee.
Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers seemed surprised by the mayor’s appearance. It was his first appearance, she said, at any public safety committee meeting in the 18 months West has held the mayor’s office.
“I’m really glad you came to our meeting,” Rodgers told the mayor.
West responded, “This is a really important issue.”
The mayor said he is forming a citizen task force to examine city funding options, including a ballot measure to raise the city’s property tax levy lid.
The plan could yield as much as $4.5 million.
More than 150 jobs were trimmed from the city budget in wide-ranging cuts for 2005. They included reductions of 48 fire and 27 police officer positions. Library service at neighborhood branches was trimmed to two or three days a week, and services offered by the parks and street maintenance departments were cut as well.
A weak revenue forecast has city officials facing even more cuts for 2006. While $17 million was trimmed for 2005, the city could see a smaller cut of $2.5 million or more under current budget projections, West said.
The mayor said that voter approval of a $117 million street improvement bond issue last fall came because the city asked citizens to help design the financing plan.
West said he wants to reuse the tactic in seeking additional tax revenue for services funded through general taxes. “Voters need to feel engaged and part of it,” the mayor said.
Currently, the city is collecting property tax at slightly below the state limit of $3.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
In 2005, the tax will yield $29.7 million for general services such as police, fire and libraries.
However, the total value of property in the city has increased enough in the past year to allow the collection to drop to about $3.05 per $1,000 in 2006, West said, and still raise about $30 million in revenue.
As a result, the city could increase the tax rate to just below the regular property tax collection limit of $3.60 through a simple majority approval of a ballot measure.
By comparison, a special property tax levy or bond issue would require a supermajority of 60 percent.
Rodgers said she would support a one-year property tax levy for public safety.
Police officials also are talking about a law-enforcement bond issue that would raise money for cars, computer improvements and other equipment.
West said he hopes to submit a plan to the City Council by the last week in August so that there would be time to place a measure to lift the levy on the November ballot.
The mayor said he is not inclined to seek a one-year levy because of the risk of losing the funding after just one year.
A raise in the levy lid would become a permanent funding source.
Sgt. Chuck Reisenauer, president of the Spokane Police Guild, said his officers are likely to campaign in favor of a tax ballot measure to restore some cuts.
“I think the support in the community is obvious,” he said during Monday’s meeting.
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