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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County set to put Fairchild tax vote on fall ballot

Spokane County voters will be asked this fall to open their wallets to eliminate one of the most serious civilian encroachments near Fairchild Air Force Base.

County commissioners have scheduled a vote today to place a property tax increase on the Nov. 5 general election ballot to pay to relocate residents living near Fairchild’s runway.

About 300 housing units south of U.S. Highway 2 in Airway Heights are beneath the main landing and takeoff zone at the northeast end of Fairchild’s runway, within the air base’s “accident potential zone.”

The ballot measure would raise 7 to 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, costing the owner of a $200,000 home about $15 a year.

Voter approval is needed to raise the county’s state-mandated limit on regular property tax collections, County Commissioner Al French said.

The so-called levy lid lift would raise $18 million to $20 million to be used for land purchases and the cost of relocating existing residents. Seven properties that have manufactured or mobile homes on them are being eyed for acquisition, French said.

Commissioners are counting on the community’s desire to protect Fairchild’s air refueling tanker mission.

“We think there is enough support in protecting Fairchild that voters will say yes,” French said.

The relocation is part of a wider plan announced last September to build $20 million of affordable new housing on the north side of U.S. 2 that would house residents who currently live in the accident zone.

The city of Airway Heights has partnered with several nonprofit organizations to develop the 160 new units.

Community leaders want to position Fairchild to survive expected rounds of base closures in coming years, in part by reducing civilian encroachment.

Spokane County and the cities of Spokane, Airway Heights and Medical Lake have adopted new zoning rules to protect the air base from development encroachments.

The 10-block residential area in the accident zone has about twice as many residents as the Air Force would like.

Airway Heights is teaming up with Catholic Charities, Community Frameworks, Habitat for Humanity, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the city of Spokane, Spokane County and Greenstone Corp. on the housing project.

Rob McCann, the executive director of Catholic Charities in Spokane, said the agencies have been going door to door talking with residents and holding meetings with them. He said 82 percent of the residents would be willing to move.

McCann said he has asked the county to allow residents to remain in their homes if they choose. Many are in poor health. Some have disabilities. Many survive on meager incomes, he said.

Most of the homes were built so long ago that the dwellings cannot be legally moved. “I would describe them as substandard,” he said.

Efforts to obtain a state housing trust fund loan will be renewed during the 2014 legislative session, French said.

State law requires that residents be given a 12-month notice for relocation once their manufactured home parks are acquired.

Many of the residents would have a hard time paying relocation costs, so part of the levy money would go for relocations, French said.

Once the land is vacated, French said, it could be sold off for development of light industries that employ small workforces, uses that would meet Air Force guidelines.

In addition to the seven properties that would be sought through the levy, the county is currently finalizing a purchase agreement for Solar World apartment property on South Lawson Street under a state grant, French said.