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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Voters asked to renew taxes for Spokane Public Libraries and county emergency services

UPDATED: Thu., March 30, 2017

Regular users of the Indian Trail library, Randy Ryan, left, and Galen Denio work on a 2000-piece puzzle on a table set aside for puzzling Wednesday, March 29, 2017. The Spokane Public Library system will try to reauthorize with a vote next month. The additional tax, which adds up to 11 percent of the system’s budget, could be reauthorized for seven more years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Regular users of the Indian Trail library, Randy Ryan, left, and Galen Denio work on a 2000-piece puzzle on a table set aside for puzzling Wednesday, March 29, 2017. The Spokane Public Library system will try to reauthorize with a vote next month. The additional tax, which adds up to 11 percent of the system’s budget, could be reauthorized for seven more years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kip Hill and Chad Sokol The Spokesman-Review

Voters throughout Spokane County will be asked next month to renew tax measures funding libraries and emergency services.

Spokane city residents will be asked to extend a property tax levy at a rate of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to fund services at the city’s six library branches. If voters approve the measure, the current tax rate will be extended through 2024, enabling the library system to expand its offering of classes in the community and maintain extended service hours, said Andrew Chanse, executive director of Spokane Public Libraries.

“Really, for the community, it’s about being able to access our resources,” Chanse said. As a result of the 66 percent approval of the property tax levy in 2013, the library has been able to nearly double the hours at its Indian Trail, East Side and Hillyard branches. With a funding extension, the organization would be able to open up the South Hill branch on Sundays, a service that was made available as part of a pilot program in Shadle Park following passage of the levy.

The library receives about 11 percent of its funding from the property tax levy, with the rest coming out of funds set aside each year in the city budget.

If voters reject the extension, it will expire at the end of this year.

Spokane County Fire District 3 also is asking voters to approve a “levy lid lift” that would raise a property tax rate from $1.40 to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. The higher rate would be in place for one year. The money would be used to replace aging trucks and equipment, and cover standard operational costs.

Voters approved an identical measure in 2008 and the tax rate has since dropped.

Chief Cody Rohrbach said District 3 has been throttled by a state law prohibiting local jurisdictions from increasing property tax rates by more than 1 percent each year. The department is funded entirely through property taxes, and inflation has outpaced allowable rate increases, he said.

“On top of that, we have an increased call volume to manage,” he said.

District 3 firefighters responded to 1,245 calls in 2012, a number that rose steadily to 1,517 last year.

The fire district is the third largest in the state by area, encompassing 565 square miles, or roughly a third of Spokane County. It includes nearly 120 part-time, on-call firefighters and seven full-time staff members, who serve about 15,000 residents living in 5,000 homes.

Finally, countywide voters will be asked whether to renew a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax that is used to fund upgrades to emergency communication technology used by firefighters and law enforcement. Elected leaders in the city and county came together last month to urge renewal, which they said was vital to maintaining the Crime Check service, a nonemergency line to report crimes, and up-to-date radio equipment for public safety agencies.

Voters first approved the sales tax bump in 2008. If it’s approved again, the tax would be in effect through 2028. Emergency communications is one of six specific sources receiving portions of the sales tax in the county, which ranges from 8.1 percent to 8.8 percent starting April 1, depending on whether the transaction is made within an area designated as benefiting from public transit.

County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she expects between 35 percent and 50 percent of voters will cast ballots – a markedly smaller share than turns out for November elections.

“The spring elections are usually not as high in terms of turnout,” she said.

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