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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City of Spokane wins ruling on vow of no tax boost

The promise made by city leaders of no new taxes stemming from passage of a road construction ballot measure last November received a boost from a Spokane County judge last week.

A city ordinance extending an exemption to about 4,700 Spokane residents eligible for a property tax break based on age, disability and income was ruled legal by Superior Court Judge Harold Clarke on Friday. The ordinance had been challenged by the state Department of Revenue and Spokane County as outside the authority of the City Council.

Spokane city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Clarke’s “definitive ruling” was a win for the city’s low-income, elderly and disabled residents.

“We’re ready to move forward and get those bills corrected,” she said. “We’re anxious to get that done.”

City leaders had campaigned for the measure, which passed overwhelmingly with 77 percent of votes cast in November, under the promise that it would not result in higher tax bills for property owners. But the Spokane County assessor’s and treasurer’s offices, under direction from the state, said the so-called “levy lid lift” would result in some of the tax bills for residents who qualified for exemptions no longer being covered, increasing their rates.

In response, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance on Feb. 9 extending existing property tax exemptions to cover levies imposed under the ballot measure. But tax notices were mailed later that month including the new charges, prompting a lawsuit.

Spokane County cited a letter from the Department of Revenue advising that the city of Spokane did not have the authority to pass a local ordinance exempting some residents from a property tax increase created by the vote.

Property tax notices have already been mailed, and the first half of 2015 payments are due today. Clarke ordered the city and county to meet and decide how best to resolve the issue, under the assumption that those eligible for the exemption had already paid their higher bills.

County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said Wednesday the county’s attorneys were reviewing Clarke’s decision and would wait for direction from the Department of Revenue. A spokeswoman for that department said in an email Wednesday the agency was reviewing the court’s decision.

The decision could be appealed to the state’s appellate or Supreme Court.

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