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Spokane Valley hopes to block tax and get $19 million for an underpass during the 2022 legislative session

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 5, 2022

Spokane Valley City Council is hoping state legislators can make a handful of changes to state law during Washington's 2022 legislative session.   (KATHLY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane Valley City Council is hoping state legislators can make a handful of changes to state law during Washington's 2022 legislative session.  (KATHLY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Valley wants the Washington Legislature in 2022 to prohibit a tax, give cities more freedom in how they pick contractors and set aside $19 million for an underpass that would eliminate train crossing conflicts on Pines Road.

Every year, Spokane Valley City Council adopts a legislative agenda. It’s a wish list, a set of goals that the city can only achieve with the help of state lawmakers. City Council met with District 4 legislators earlier this month to discuss its agenda.

Not every agenda item is a request to change a particular state law or earmark money for a Spokane Valley project. Some of the city’s legislative goals are more conceptual.

For instance, the city is urging its legislators to defend local control. Spokane Valley City Council wants to prevent the state from enacting laws that supersede Spokane Valley’s authority.

City Councilman Arne Woodard said during a Dec. 7 meeting with District 4 legislators that Spokane Valley is unique, and West Side politicians aren’t well-equipped to make decisions on the city’s behalf.

“We don’t want to be Bellevue,” Woodard said. “We don’t even want to be Spokane.”

Other items on the agenda are more specific.

Spokane Valley wants the state to pass a law that would ban cities from taxing county wastewater treatment facilities.

That law would preemptively block a looming threat: Spokane is considering taxing Spokane County’s wastewater treatment facility, which lies within Spokane city limits.

Except for a couple of dozen Spokane residents, everyone who relies on the facility lives in Spokane Valley, unincorporated Spokane County, Millwood or Liberty Lake.

If Spokane starts taxing the county wastewater facility, Spokane Valley residents would likely see their sewer bills increase by about 25%, or $12.50 a month.

Some members of the Spokane City Council argue that, even though they haven’t been collecting the tax since the county built the facility in 2011, they have to start collecting it now because city code requires it.

But Spokane Valley and Spokane County leaders say the tax would be a textbook example of taxation without representation, since Valley and county residents don’t elect members of the Spokane City Council. Spokane would effectively be taxing Spokane Valley residents for sewer services provided by Spokane County, and the money generated by the tax would go into Spokane’s general fund.

Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell said there’s already a state law blocking cities from taxing county solid waste facilities. The Legislature could use the language in that law, almost verbatim, to write a law that does the same for wastewater treatment facilities.

“I fully support this,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

The city also wants to change state law so that it doesn’t always have to accept the lowest bid when picking a contractor for a major project.

Current state law generally forces cities to take the lowest bid for a project. Whichever company is willing to do the work cheapest wins the contract.

But the cheapest option isn’t always the best one for the city, Driskell said.

“The state law really focuses on the lowest cost,” Driskell said. “From our standpoint and our experience, it can’t and shouldn’t be the most important factor. The quality of the job and the quality of the contractor is critically important.”

Driskell said the city would like the Legislature to amend the law to give cities a greater ability to vet contractors. That would allow cities to weed out unqualified bidders and ensure the company that wins a contract is capable of doing the work.

Spokane Valley also wants the state to dedicate $19 million for the Pines Road Grade Separation Project, which will allow cars to pass under the train tracks. About 60 trains cross Pines Road every day, blocking traffic for approximately four hours.

The city has already secured $10 million of the roughly $29 million project, which also includes intersection improvements at the Pines Road and Trent Avenue intersection.

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