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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Commission again votes for 1 percent property tax increase

Spokane County Commissioners Josh Kerns and Al French, pictured September 12, 2017, say they don’t have the power to loosen statewide measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County commissioners have approved a 1 percent property tax increase to fund core county services, road construction and property acquisition for the Conservation Futures program.

At a meeting Tuesday, commissioners Al French and Mary Kuney voted in favor of the increase, while commissioner Josh Kerns voted against it.

Kerns said he thinks the county could have funded its 2019 budget without the 1 percent property tax increase because of improved economic conditions this year coupled with the potential for savings in various departments.

“We’ve seen such tremendous economic growth this year, that I felt we were so close to really not even having to rely on that 1 percent property tax increase,” he said. “It would have been a nice show of goodwill to the voters and the constituents of Spokane County to not levy that amount on property taxes this year.”

The decision marks a decade of the county opting for a 1 percent property tax increase to help sustain basic services and minimize the impact of budgetary reductions.

The levies will generate an estimated $83.8 million for the county in 2019, including $56 million toward its general fund, $2 million toward conservation futures and $25.7 million to maintain roads.

The resolution passed by commissioners does not include a transfer in “banked capacity” from the county’s road fund to the general fund. Banked capacity is the difference between the amount the county could levy under state law and the amount it actually does levy in a year. State law allows the county to “bank” taxing authority for future use.

Spokane County faced a shortfall last year of about $9.4 million, and commissioners voted to transfer banked capacity from the road fund toward balancing the 2018 budget.

French told The Spokesman-Review in October that financial pressures created by the Legislature and the Growth Management Act forced counties throughout the state to shift money reserved for roads to their general funds, but the county is reducing its reliance on reserve road funds.

However, because the county isn’t including a shift of banked capacity from the road fund to the general fund for 2019, the general fund levy is less than last year.

The 1 percent property tax increase, however, will generate $247,600 more than last year for its road fund and $117,340 more for the Conservation Futures program.

French said the county is also opting out of diverting $1.2 million from the road tax to the general fund that’s used to pay for road safety, which frees up those funds for road maintenance.

Kerns said he credits commissioners Kuney and French as well as county staff for finding efficiencies in their departments, which allows the county to forgo shifting banked capacity from the road fund to the general fund in the 2019 budget.

“It’s a win that we are not doing the shift,” he said. “It’s a big deal. We dug ourselves out of a very big hole from last year.”