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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Commission votes against property tax increase

The Spokane County Courthouse and Jail are seen in this 2019 aerial photo.  (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

For the second year in a row, the Spokane County Commission has voted against raising property taxes.

Republican commissioners Josh Kerns, Al French and Mary Kuney on Tuesday voted against a 1% property tax increase for 2024. The decision will save the owner of a median home – $433,000 – about $3 next year.

Democratic commissioners Chris Jordan and Amber Waldref voted in favor of taking the 1%.

Washington law allows local governments to collect an additional 1% every year through their regular property tax. For example, if the city of Spokane collected $100 last year, it could collect $101 this year.

Many governments, including the Spokane City Council, routinely take the 1%. Spurning the 1% isn’t uncommon, however. The Spokane Valley City Council, for example, hasn’t raised property taxes in 15 years.

If the commission had voted for a 1% tax increase, the county would have collected an additional $638,000 in 2024. For context, the county expects to bring in $61 million in property taxes next year, and the county’s overall budget will likely exceed $900 million.

Republican commissioners said they believe the additional revenue is unneeded.

“We have a growing economy,” French said. “One of the benefits of a growing economy is that you have additional revenue to build your tax base on without having to go to your taxpayers and constantly pick their pockets for precious dollars.”

Jordan pointed out that French has voted for numerous property tax increases in the past.

“I think it’s unfortunate to use phrases like ‘pick pockets,’ ” he said.

Between 2014 and 2023, the Spokane County Commission was comprised exclusively of Republicans. The commission voted to take the 1% eight times during that decade.

Waldref and Jordan argued that the county should put 75% of the revenue generated by the 1% toward public safety. Both pointed out that the county is struggling with staffing shortages.

Countywide, Spokane County has 264 vacancies out of more than 2,000 positions.

Public officials in recent years have repeatedly stressed that the county is short on Sheriff’s Office deputies and corrections officers in the Spokane County Jail. Detention services is currently short 30 employees, while the Sheriff’s Office has 23 vacancies.

“That is not normal, to have that many vacancies,” Jordan said.

Kerns, who has voted against taking the 1% eight years in a row, stressed that Spokane County has had staff vacancies ever since he took office in 2016.

“There are always vacant positions at Spokane County,” he said.

Kuney said she shares Waldref and Jordan’s concern about vacancies, but pushed back on their arguments. She noted that the county is already offering signing bonuses of up to $15,000 for some Sheriff’s Office deputies.

French said he doesn’t think “throwing more money” at public safety will resolve the county’s hiring challenges.

“The lack of law enforcement officers is not a function of pay,” French said.

Declining the 1% wasn’t the commissioners’ most significant tax decision on Tuesday, however.

The commissioners also have decided against what’s referred to as the “road shift.”

Washington allows local governments to shift taxes they were legally allowed to increase for roads – but didn’t – and to start collecting them for their general funds, which pay for many county functions, including courts and public safety. It’s a move Spokane County has used in the past, and it allows the county to bring in millions in additional property tax revenue. The county could have collected an $7 million in 2024 if it had opted to do the road shift.

Rejecting the 1% saved the median Spokane County homeowner about $3. Rejecting the road shift saved the median homeowner about $35.

“Us not taking it is a big deal,” Kerns said. “When we don’t take it, that’s a good thing for your pocketbook.”