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Spokane County, Spokane Valley vote to redirect state sales tax for affordable housing

Offices and council chambers at Spokane Valley's new $14.2 million City Hall building is photographed on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. The building is starting to have structural damage. Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Offices and council chambers at Spokane Valley's new $14.2 million City Hall building is photographed on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. The building is starting to have structural damage. Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County and Spokane Valley could soon have hundreds of thousands more to invest in affordable housing after voting to keep a small percentage of state sales taxes local.

Local governments gained the ability to keep a small percentage of the sales taxes –about 0.0073% that the state already collects – if they use it for affordable housing after the state Legislature approved a law this past session. The program allows local governments to spend more on affordable housing, without raising taxes.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said he doesn’t yet know what type of affordable housing project Spokane Valley will invest in or if it will share its portion of the state sales tax with the county. But he said if Spokane Valley didn’t act, it might not get a share of the sales tax at all.

“When people say ‘What are you going to spend it on?’ we don’t know yet,” Higgins said. “But if we don’t do anything, we lose it.”

According to the new state law, cities and counties must pass a resolution by January explaining that they intend to keep the sales tax and must pass a more detailed and binding ordinance by next summer.

The city of Spokane passed a resolution in July, Spokane County passed a resolution at the end of August and Spokane Valley passed a resolution at its meeting Tuesday night.

Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney said commissioners were planning to attend a joint meeting with other government officials to discuss what they will do with their share of affordable housing money next week.

She said the county also is working on passing the second part of the affordable housing plan, an ordinance, after a public hearing Sept. 10.

Arne Woodard, a Spokane Valley councilman and member of two regional committees that make affordable housing and funding recommendations for the county, said he hopes local governments will pool their sales tax funds so they can work together to increase affordable housing.

Woodard said Spokane Valley could try to spend the money on its own or use it to bond more, but working alongside other governments might be the best use of Spokane Valley’s share of sales taxes.

“You can make a bigger impact, and quicker, if you can work together,” Woodard said.

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