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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane offers up tax plan

Officials say proposal refinances debt, freeing millions for streets, Riverfront Park

Spokane voters likely will see two big tax measures on the November ballot, but city leaders say they will be part of a refinancing package to fix streets and renovate Riverfront Park and won’t cost them anything more than they’re already paying.

“We can use the same money the city of Spokane has already invested,” said Mayor David Condon, who along with Council President Ben Stuckart on Monday kicked off the city’s effort to explain the complex package that they hope will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Key to the plan is using new money to retire old debt while taking advantage of more favorable interest rates and a long-term property tax levy.

If approved by voters, Condon said it would create about $60 million in new revenue to pay for renovation of Riverfront Park while creating a recurring $25 million a year dedicated to fixing and improving Spokane’s streets without increasing the current rate of 91 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation already being spent on street and parks bonds now.

“Just as citizens have refinanced their homes and used the savings to make other investments,” the mayor said, “we are proposing sustainable funding for streets and reinvigorating our parks all without asking citizens to reach deeper into their pockets.”

But the actual ballot measures could trigger sticker shock, even though the exact dollar figure still is being sorted out.

The size of the proposed parks bond, for example, could be nearly $100 million to raise enough to pay off existing debt while still providing about $60 million for planned renovations at Riverfront Park.

Currently, city property owners are paying 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for 1999 and 2007 park bonds, though the older of the two will be retired at the end of this year. They also are paying 57 cents per $1,000 of assessed value repaying a 2004 street bond that has been spent but still has 16 years to go before being paid off.

Condon and Stuckart said the new projects could be funded if voters simply agreed to continue paying the same rate they are now for a combination parks bond and long-term streets levy.

“This can be done within the existing rate structure,” Stuckart said.

Condon said the package would transform Spokane from being reliant on long-term bonds for ongoing street maintenance and improvements to a pay-as-you-go approach that uses annual levy dollars to generate matching funds from local utility accounts as well as state and federal programs. The long-term levy would be subject to voter reauthorization every 20 years.

Whether the plan is sent to voters this fall is up to the City Council.

The kickoff Monday was designed to introduce the concept to voters, who are likely to see a separate $45 million Spokane County parks measure on the 2015 ballot.

Editor’s note: The separate Spokane County parks measure is expected to be on the ballot in 2015. An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that it could be on the same ballot this fall as the city of Spokane’s proposals.