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The Spokane Valley City Council had an extra $50,000 to dole out Tuesday as members decided how to allocate the city’s lodging tax funds. City finance director Mark Calhoun announced that the 2012 lodging tax revenue had come in higher than expected. The city had previously announced that it would give $380,500 to organizations to promote tourism in Spokane Valley.
Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brenda Grassel announced at the end of Tuesday’s meeting that she is resigning her position on the council effective Dec. 31 because she is moving outside the city limits. The council has one more meeting scheduled this year on Dec. 18, but Grassel said she would be unable to attend. “This will be my last council meeting tonight,” she said. She thanked city staff and her fellow council members for their support during her three years on the council. “It’s been fun to debate with you,” she said. She also thanked citizens for coming to her with their concerns during her term. “It’s been quite a pleasure and enjoyment to serve you.”
Once again, Valleyfest director Peggy Doering is waiting to hear whether her organization will receive any of Spokane Valley’s lodging tax funding. Valleyfest asked for $40,000 from lodging taxes for festival marketing. As happened last year, the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee did not recommend Valleyfest for funding.
As Chair of the Lodging Tax Committee, I’d like to give additional information to the two recent newspaper articles. First let’s talk about where the money comes from. The Lodging Tax money comes from a 2 percent tax collected on overnight stays at the city’s hotels and motels. The expectation is that the money will be used to promote tourism that brings revenue back to the city. The process to disperse these funds has been done on an annual basis with an application deadline in September and presentations to the Advisory Council in October.
Valleyfest director Peggy Doering is worried about securing community sponsors for the annual three-day festival after the Spokane Valley City Council recently decided not to give the festival lodging tax funding for the first time since 2004. “This is the time of year that we are visiting with our sponsors and trying to secure funding for next year,” Doering said. “They’ve been asking us what is going to happen with the funding.”
Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson told the City Council Tuesday that the city has a balanced budget and healthy reserves going into 2012. “Right now I think we are in an enviable position among cities,” he said. The proposed budget presented Tuesday includes no property tax increase and no increase in employees. Staff was told by the Finance Committee to limit expense increases to 1 percent over 2011 spending, Jackson said. Recurring expenditures will actually drop $164,000 from 2011 levels, he said. “Staff has actually done better than that,” he said. “I think that’s outstanding, considering we haven’t made any reductions.”
It is not unusual for elected officials to ask their constituents their opinion on certain issues that are being discussed in the halls of government. Last year when the city of Spokane Valley wanted suggestions on how to improve the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan, business owners were invited to a series of public meetings to provide input. But more recently Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brenda Grassel has picked a different way to get opinions from local builders that doesn’t include that kind of public process.
A review of the city of Spokane Valley’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program with the City Council evolved into a discussion on whether the city should even be considering building new roads in light of the need for $4 million annually to pay for street preservation projects. “Why would we want to continue to add streets when we can’t keep up the ones we have?” said Councilwoman Brenda Grassel. If street preservation plan is a priority then it should be funded in the TIP.
Two candidates for empty planning commission seats, including the half-brother of Mayor Tom Towey, were approved by a majority of the Spokane Valley City Council Tuesday during a contentious meeting. The recommendation for new planning commission members is usually made by the mayor, but he asked Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels to do it. “I asked each council person to give me two names,” said Schimmels. “The people who got the majority of votes in that group got the nomination.”
A standing-room-only crowd watched Tuesday night as the Spokane Valley City Council took the first major step toward killing the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan. They came even though the result was telegraphed more than a year ago when five “Positive Change” candidates won council seats after promising to do away with SARP.
The Spokane Valley City Council unanimously passed its budget for 2011 Tuesday night, despite objections by Councilman Bill Gothmann to the cut in a cost of living adjustment raise to nonunion employees. Gothmann said that when the city was founded, the council made certain promises to its employees.
The Spokane Valley City Council took a three-hour tour last week, but instead of ending up on a tropical island they stopped by some city parks as well as other locations that have been topics of discussion in recent months. The tour started at City Hall and headed west on Sprague Avenue, stopping at Balfour Park before continuing west to Thierman Road and turning around.
Four Spokane Valley City Council members voted Tuesday to withhold a 2.5 percent cost of living increase in 2011 from the city’s nonunion employees despite the fact that the city will have $24 million left on the books at the end of the year. Councilman Dean Grafos made the motion, which was agreed to by Mayor Tom Towey, Councilwoman Brenda Grassel and Councilman Bob McCaslin. “We are in tough economic times,” Grafos said. Freezing the salary increase for one year will give the council’s finance committee time to “get a better read” on the severity of the city’s revenue drop due to decreased taxes, he said.
Some members of the Spokane Valley City Council started to pick apart acting City Manager Mike Jackson’s proposed 2011 budget Tuesday, but at least one was using outdated numbers to do it. “In 2014 there’s a deficit of $6 million,” said Councilman Bob McCaslin.
Several Spokane Valley City Council members have been making a big deal out of a proposal to lower the 2011 property tax rate by 1 percent. What has been left unsaid is that the cut amounts to only one cent per $1,000 in assessed value, saving the owner of a $200,000 home only $2 a year. Councilman Dean Grafos, who has been vocal in his praise for the decrease, said it doesn’t matter that residents won’t be saving much. “I think it makes a difference,” he said. “Maybe it doesn’t make a difference to you and me, but to someone who is struggling in our city it makes a difference.”
The merits of forming a regional Transportation Benefit District to raise revenue for road construction received nearly an hour of discussion at Tuesday’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting, but the end of the meeting didn’t appear to bring the council any closer to a decision. Deputy city attorney Cary Driskell said his investigation showed that there are 60,000 qualifying vehicles in the city. If the city were to do its own TBD it could collect $1.2 million a year with a $20 tab fee. Other revenue options include a gas tax, property tax or sales tax. “You can use a combination of the options outlined here,” Driskell said.
Six months after a new majority swept into the Spokane Valley City Council promising “positive change,” there has been change – a good deal of it reversing decisions made by the previous City Council. The change hasn’t come at the speed new members Brenda Grassel, Tom Towey, Dean Grafos and Bob McCaslin hoped. They, along with veteran council member Gary Schimmels, who was re-elected last year, campaigned together on the “Positive Change” slate.