Ignoring the advice of Spokane’s mayor, voters overwhelmingly approved a $5.8 million-a-year tax that will pay for more police and firefighters.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said voters decision to tax themselves reflected what he had heard from neighborhoods for the last several years.
“I’m thankful the citizens voted for this because it’s always hard to vote for a tax,” said Stuckart, a candidate for mayor.
The tax will allow the city to hire 20 new police officers and maintain 30 recently-hired firefighters currently funded by a federal grant about to expire.
In the first count of votes Tuesday night, about 64 percent of voters approved the measure. The measure needed only a simple majority to pass.
The proposal divided city government, with most of the Spokane City Council supporting it and Mayor David Condon opposing it.
Spokane homeowners will pay 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $60 a year on a $200,000 home.
The levy will fund 30 of 48 firefighter jobs created through a Homeland Security grant that expires this year and pay for police officers that will work downtown, investigate property crime or work as neighborhood resource officers. The levy also will pay for other public safety costs, including community court and pre-trial supervision programs and create re-entry services for people convicted of crimes.
Stuckart said he had several budget meetings coming up where he would work to keep an additional 10 of the 48 grant positions.
He said elected officials would show voters they are spending the levy the way officials promised by releasing an annual report detailing spending.
Condon has argued that the city should have found money in the budget to pay for public safety, adding police and firefighters gradually. Since he became mayor, Condon has increased the police force by 52 officers without going to voters for a new tax.
Condon, however, promised to incorporate the voter’s decision into the 2020 budget.
“While I wish we had been able to work together with City Council on a public safety investment plan that was collaborative and designed to meet specific measurable outcomes,” Condon said in a prepared statement. “Spokane voters clearly have told us they would like enhanced public safety services.”
Mike Fagan, the only city council member to oppose the levy, said using a levy to pay for employees might not be sustainable. He’s concerned that the new tax won’t keep up with wages as officers and firefighters gain seniority, especially with a new contract in the works with the Spokane Police Guild. And, he said, there could be further problems if the economy slows.
Speaking from Jack & Dan’s Bar and Grill where members gathered after a meeting, Spokane Firefighters Union President Tim Archer said he’s hopeful that with the new tax in place and further efforts by the City Council, Spokane won’t have to layoff any firefighters.
“I’m ecstatic,” Archer said. “This is a win for the city and for us.”