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Spokane City Council puts off shelter vote, sends measures to 2024 ballots

City Cable 5 screenshot
City Cable 5 screenshot

In its final official Monday night meeting of the year, the Spokane City Council acted on several important measures.

Members postponed a decision to extend the city’s contract with the Salvation Army to operate the Trent Avenue shelter for unhoused people this winter. Councilmembers said they want to continue to study the proposal and scheduled a special legislative meeting within their December 14 study session to consider it again. The proposal would have the city pay nearly four million dollars for the Salvation Army to operate the east Spokane shelter through April. Council members have complained the current administration has forced the city to adopt a strategy is expensive, but not particularly effective. Then the city, under new Mayor Lisa Brown, would transition to a new strategy for working with unhoused people.

The council also postponed until December 14 a decision about whether to remove a proposition from the February ballot. That measure would change the process the city uses to adjust its political districts every 10 years. The council approved the changes last summer and voted to send them to a public vote in February. But Councilman Zack Zappone proposes to postpone the vote to November, after a citizens committee does a complete review of the city charter.

Several members of the public protested.

“There’s lots of conversation going on about gerrymandering and all kinds of things. This is where the suspicion comes from is when you offer something to the people and agree that you’re going to allow us to vote on it and then you yank it back. So I would encourage you to let it go as proposed, let it stay on the February ballot,” testified a man who didn’t give his name.

That was also the position of Councilmembers Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle. They say the changes have been well debated and vetted with a variety of groups. They say a postponement could lead to accusations that the process had become political. Cathcart proposed a tweaking of the ballot language to make it more palatable to Zappone and others who want to push the public vote on the proposal until later in the year. The city has until December 15 to notify the county auditor that the measure should be pulled from the ballot or change its language.

Councilmembers voted to take another 10 days to continue to vet the proposition with community groups, then decide whether the measure will stay on the ballot.

Meanwhile, the council voted to send two other measures to public votes next year. One would continue the current property tax levy, with a small increase, to pay for library services. That will go on the February ballot. The second would tap into property taxes to pay for city parks improvements and maintenance. That is destined for the August ballot.

The council also voted to increase the city utility tax by one-percent for 2024 to help balance the budget. Cathcart says he reluctantly supported the measure, mostly because the increase is actually just an accounting move, pulling money from a reserve account.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.