Parks and Streets in Hands of Spokane Voters
Spokane County voters are being asked to approve two funding plans on the November ballot, one for county parks and one for street projects. They will not result in a tax increase, a fact widely advertised, but will extend the lifespan of existing taxes.
The park bond proposal would fund the Riverfront Park Master Plan, a $64-million dollar project aimed at renovating the downtown park. The mayor and six of seven city council members have whole-heartedly thrown their support behind the bond, including Council President Ben Stuckart. He says “I don’t know if there’s any other option we could put in front of the citizens that’s a better deal.”
City residents currently pay park bonds of 34-cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Un-touched, one of those bonds would expire next year and the rest would expire in about ten years. With the parks proposal, the 34-cent rate would stay the same, but the expiration date would stretch out to 2035.
Inside city hall Juliet Sinisterra is the project manager for the Riverfront Park Master Plan. She says the planning committee wants to cover and light the pavilion, reconstruct the carousel building, and move the ice rink to the outer edge of the park next to the Bloomsday runners. Those cosmetic changes are complimented by plans to improve fire and service access into the center of the park.
Sinisterra: “Probably the biggest idea that came out of the master plan is this idea of really trying to pull people to the center of the park. So we’re really wanting to open up the vistas, open up the promenades, open up the pathways, and really direct people to the center of the park where the falls are and where the pavilion is.”
Stuckart says the bond is set at more than 60-million so it can pay for needed repairs before beginning new projects.
Stuckart: “Quite frankly I’m worried if this doesn’t pass because underneath the ground, when Riverfront Park was built and we built Expo, structurally it was built as a one summer world exposition, it wasn’t built to be a long term park. So there’s millions of dollars of work to be done underground, whether it’s the water pipes, the sprinkler system.”
He says it will be hard to upkeep Riverfront Park in the future if the bond is turned down. But if the measure does pass, the master plan is still not final. There will be a public comment period on the Riverfront Park Master Plan, a request for proposals, and more discussion in city hall.
The other proposition in front of Spokane County voters is a street levy. Like with parks, tax-payers already pay a street levy that was adopted in 2004. The 57-cent property tax assessment is set to expire in 2020. But with passage of a new levy it will stretch to 2035, and the money will be refinanced to pay for both old and new projects.
Stuckart: “If the citizens turn down the street levy we’re looking at 16 more years of various levels of payment on the 2004 bond without a single project because we’re out of money from the 2004 street bond. So this levy allows us to put huge amounts of dollars into our arterial network for the same tax rate they’re paying now.”
He calls it smart government, and says the city has an opportunity to keep the tax rate the same but invest in the cities infrastructure. Again, the citizens would be involved in deciding exactly what projects the levy funds.
Stuckart: “What we’ve also done is city council, two months ago, passed a citizens transportation committee… They’ll be working with the experts on the grading of the streets, what do they recommend, but its ultimately the citizens that are going to be making the decision on that street bond.”
There is no organized opposition to either the parks bond or street levy. In the statewide voters guide Spokane resident George McGrath wrote the arguments against both measures. He is concerned with imposing taxes on citizens. Council member Mike Fagan is also wary of the idea. He voted for putting the measure on the ballot, saying the voters should have a say. But he said in a July council meeting that he wants taxpayers to know this won’t be the first tax request that comes down the pike in the next four years.
Fagan: “We’re looking at 250-300 million on cleaning up the river. We’re looking at a $60-$70 million dollar effort for the central city line through the Spokane Transit Authority. We have a BRAC process that involved Fairchild Air Force base that will start in 2015, maybe 2016, and we still have an unanswered question with regard to the property and the trailer park residents that comprise the encroachment, if you will. We’ve got a $45-million dollar county parks bond to look forward to. And we’ve got three impacts to the gas tax that we can look forward to.”
He is one of few elected officials armed with arguments against the propositions. City hall’s regular staff aren’t allowed to advocate for or against, but they are allowed to educate about the measures.
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio