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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane library levy headed to February ballot, parks levy to August

Spokane voters are going to have several taxes to consider next year, including a library levy in February and a parks levy in August.   (Christopher Anderson)

Spokane voters will be asked in February whether they are willing to raise their taxes in support of local libraries, and again in August whether they are willing to do the same for parks.

On Monday, the Spokane City Council approved placing a $7.6 million three-year library levy on the February ballot and a $225 million 20-year parks levy on the August ballot.

Initially, both levies were expected to be placed on the same February ballot, but some council members raised concerns that the sizable parks levy could poison the well for voters who will likely be asked later in the year for a broader, much larger tax increase to support basic city services. In addition, some argued that voters will be more conscious of the benefits of local parks during the summer.

Spokane Public Schools will also be seeking voters’ approval in February for a $200 million bond and a nearly $300 million levy to be collected over three years. The school district has a successful track record seeking voter approval for tax increases, and Spokane’s elected leaders have mused that a city levy appearing on the same ballot may be buoyed.

City leaders are also considering asking voters to approve other possible tax increases, with possibilities including a public safety levy focused on supplementing the costly budgets of local law enforcement and a much broader levy lid lift to widely buoy a troubled general fund, which pays for myriad services, including police and fire.

No action has been taken on these other items, and the details of how much they would raise taxes or what those funds would pay for haven’t been finalized. However, council members do anticipate that additional tax asks will be necessary to avoid deep spending cuts as the city’s costs, particularly salaries, increase faster than its tax collection.

Councilman Michael Cathcart, who voted against deferring the parks levy to August, reiterated his concerns Monday that voters will be inherently turned off by repeated large tax asks. The deferral, he argued, now endangers the parks levy, in addition to any other levies put before voters later in the year.

If approved in February, the library levy would raise roughly $2.5 million annually for three years. The vote is not on a new tax, but to renew an existing tax that is projected to bring in $2.4 million in 2023, comprising nearly a fifth of the library’s budget. The bulk of the library system’s revenue, a bit under $10 million, comes from Spokane’s general fund.

“We know they’ve been doing a lot of great work, and I hope to see our community support them,” Councilman Zack Zappone said.

If approved in August, the parks levy would raise an estimated $225 million over the next 20 years. The new tax would go to pay for three new parks and more than 30 new playgrounds, with slight preference to the historically underinvested northeast district of the city. The funds would also pay for four new park rangers to perform security services and 14 new maintenance workers.

“Parks have put together one of the most well-thought out plans I’ve seen when it comes to something that they want to present to the voters,” Council member Jonathan Bingle said Monday.