Efforts to raise property taxes to buy homes and land around Fairchild Air Force Base dimmed Wednesday as “no” votes piled up – especially in rural and poorer areas of the county.
“They just couldn’t afford to do it,” Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said of voters in two lower-income neighborhoods near the base, which rejected the measure.
Spokane County Proposition 1 asked voters to increase property taxes by 6.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, costing the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $12.60 a year. The tax would be collected for up to nine years and would raise $18 million to buy seven mobile home parks on the south side of Airway Heights and relocate residents in the 188 units there.
Moving people out of Fairchild’s “accident potential zone” at the northeast end of the base runway was seen as a way to blunt concerns about encroachment on the base.
Countywide, many urban and more affluent precincts voted in favor of the measure, and less affluent and rural areas were against it.
The south sides of Spokane and Spokane Valley generally favored the measure while pockets of the north side were against it.
Voters in Medical Lake, Cheney and Deer Park all threw support behind the measure in Tuesday’s returns.
Rushing said the 18,000 military veterans in the county and their family members provided a base of support for the measure. They see the importance of keeping Fairchild open, and they also benefit from commissary, medical care and athletic facility benefits available to them at the base.
Proponents of the measure argued that it would reduce the risk that the base could be closed in the future.
Spokane Valley city officials didn’t endorse the measure, saying county commissioners didn’t explore every other option before asking taxpayers for more money.
An updated count on Wednesday showed that “no” votes increased their edge from 51 percent to 51.25 percent, a 2,273-vote lead.
About 25,000 ballots remain to be counted in the county’s mail-in system, with the next count expected today.
County Commissioner Al French said that even if the measure fails, there were enough “yes” votes to justify consideration of resubmitting the proposal to voters in the future.
“Maybe we didn’t do a good enough job of getting the information out to the public,” he said.
Some voters believed that encroachment near Fairchild was a local issue for the West Plains while others said the federal government should fund relocations of manufactured homes, French said.
He said the federal government is not going to help Spokane pay for relocations.
Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who voted no on a city resolution to endorse the ballot measure, said, “I didn’t feel it was time.”
He pointed out that voters rejected a $15 million animal control ballot measure in 2011, and that forced local officials to come up with a less costly solution resulting in a merged countywide system. Fagan said that same approach should be taken with the Fairchild encroachment issue.