Spokane City Council dials back development fee increases until next March
March 27, 2023 Updated Mon., March 27, 2023 at 10:11 p.m.
Two weeks after significantly boosting certain fees to develop property, the Spokane City Council scaled back some of the costs, following an outcry from business leaders.
The compromise may only be temporary, and it almost didn’t happen after hours of debate on Monday.
The council headed into the day poised to significantly dial back some of those increases for the rest of the year, providing time for further negotiation before full increases became permanent.
By Monday afternoon, that compromise suddenly appeared dead in the water.
“I don’t even want to call it compromise,” Councilman Jonathan Bingle said in an interview before the vote. “This is not meeting me even close to halfway.”
But after hours of public testimony and council debate Monday night, a compromise was struck, and the language of the ordinance rewritten on the dais.
By a 6-1 vote, the development fee increases were significantly lowered until March 5, 2024. Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson was the sole vote in opposition.
In three back-to-back votes earlier this month, the City Council approved increases in fees paid by developers to improve water, sewer and road infrastructure that would be strained by population growth.
For decades, that growth in Spokane has outpaced investments in the services needed to sustain it, such as roads or water and sewer systems. Fees for water and sewer connections had not been updated since 2002, and were previously unusually low.
But as builders began to sound alarm bells that development would crater as a result of swift fee increases, the Council quickly began considering going back to the drawing board.
The ordinance considered Monday was a modification of a proposal by Bingle: rather than immediately increase fees by at least 129% and in some cases more than 1000%, connection fees across the board would only increase by 66%. These lower fees would come with a built-in expiration date, at which point the much higher fees would come back into effect if an alternative wasn’t found before the deadline.
Though Bingle had proposed holding at that lower fee increase for up to two years – time he argued was needed for sufficient study and negotiations – the ordinance originally in front of the council Monday night would have only lasted until the end of the year.
Bingle, who believed that truncated timeline was too short, signaled he would be voting against the measure. Councilman Michael Cathcart similarly signaled he would not support the ordinance, and it was unclear if the measure would have the five votes needed to pass.
An offer was made at the last minute: Instead of a nine-month deadline to revisit the issue, or the two years Bingle wanted, the lower fee increases would last for just under a year, expiring March 4.
A longer timeline wasn’t the only compromise Bingle had asked for – he wanted wider fee waivers for economically disadvantaged areas of the city, as well as for all accessory dwelling units (better known as in-law units), for instance – but the compromise was enough to save the ordinance from possible defeat.
In the end, the only council member to vote against the ordinance was Wilkerson, who before the last-minute three-month extension signaled she would support the temporarily lower fees.
She criticized Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration and her cabinet, arguing that if more work had been done in the preceding months, an additional three months wouldn’t be necessary. Further delay, she argued, would simply be kicking the can down the road.
“This just really requires bold leadership,” she said.
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