Spokane City, County Clash Over Collecting Utility Tax

Mar 16, 2021

Spokane city leaders are considering collecting a utility tax on sewer plant revenues that has been in place since 2009.
Credit Rebecca White/SPR

More than eleven years after approving it, the city of Spokane is considering whether to collect a 20% utility tax on the county’s wastewater plant. If it moves ahead, other local governments say they may sue.

According to Spokane city code, the city may collect 20% of the gross income from a wastewater treatment facility.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the taxes could be used on problems that impact the entire region, such as rebuilding Havana Street which borders the valley, city and fairgrounds.

“The mayor and I are simply saying we should just sit down and have a conversation, figure out what the law is on this and if there's potentially a win-win regional solution,” Beggs said. “since the tax is on the books, its owed, maybe we agree to spend that money on regional problems.”

The tax was approved by the city council in 2009. The county finished building its wastewater treatment system in 2011. It was mostly built to handle the greater Spokane Valley’s transition from septic tanks to a sewer system.

Though the tax has been law for more than a decade, city leaders hadn’t considered collecting it until last year. Brian Coddington, a spokesman for Mayor Nadine Woodward, said lawyers from the city and county were meeting to discuss the legality of the tax. He said in the meantime, the mayor was trying to meet with other leaders to discuss projects they both need, and what the tax could potentially fund.

“She would like to take a step back from just the focus on the tax itself,” Coddington said, “and really have a dialogue first on what we’re trying to accomplish as a region, and then get back to the point of how do we pay for that.”

Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick along with Liberty Lake and Millwood have all written to the city of Spokane in opposition.

“The biggest concern I have is it applies outside their jurisdiction,” Wick said. “The people who get impacted by the decision to tax the county’s plant is Spokane Valley - via the tax being implemented on a group of people that have no input on the elected leadership that makes that decision - or in a simpler term it’s taxation without representation.”

The county also strongly opposes the utility tax, says Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns.

“We’re willing to take whatever actions we need to protect our taxpayers,” he said.

He said he was open to meeting with the mayor to discuss options, but said it would be challenging  unlikely to come to a compromise if it included implementing the tax.