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Jail tax measure trailing, homeless encampment ban ahead after first Spokane election count

Spokane County voters are saying no to a sales tax increase to fund a new jail.
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
Spokane County voters are saying no to a sales tax increase to fund a new jail.

Spokane County voters on Tuesday are saying yes to one ballot measure, no to another, after the first count of ballots Tuesday night. The majority of people of Kootenai County voted yes for a bond issue designed to raise money to preserve open space on the Rathdrum Prairie, but it may not be enough to pass the measure.

Spokane city voters have given a big early lead to an initiative that would forbid homeless encampments within a thousand feet of schools, day care centers, playgrounds and public parks. The measure took 75% of the vote of the first returned ballots.

Proponents say the initiative would better protect children and their families by reducing “the dangerous, dirty and disruptive behavior inherent in homeless encampments around areas where our children learn, play and grow,” according to a statement about the measure in the county’s online voter guide. Opponents argued the measure will make it nearly impossible for people who live on the streets to find places to camp.

In Spokane County, voters are saying no to Measure 1, a .2% countywide sales tax devoted to criminal justice funding. The initiative received only 37% of the vote after the first count of votes was released Tuesday night.

Some of the proceeds would have been designated for a new county jail, public safety and behavioral health programs. The tax would have been imposed in April 2024 and continued through 2054 with 60% of the proceeds routed to Spokane County and the rest would divided among the county’s cities and towns. Proponents estimate the tax would have raised $31 million in 2025 with the annual proceeds growing to $95 million in 2054.

Supporters of the measure argued it would make Spokane safer by creating more space to hold offenders who are now released due to lack of space in the county’s 40-year-old jail. Opponents said the proponents did a poor job explaining in detail how the money raised would be spent and said the county should instead invest in substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.

In Kootenai County, a bond issue that seeks to preserve open space and reign in growth is failing. The early results showed the measure with 58% of the early vote. The final results show that early support faded to 47%. Bond issues need two-thirds approval to pass in Idaho.

The Open Space and Parks Development Bond would have raised $50 million to purchase land and easements where development would be off limits.

“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Kootenai County to have a direct say in the growth trajectory of this county. By voting for this initiative, it allows the county to keep development at check or at bay for these open spaces that are rapidly disappearing,” County Commissioner Bruce Mattare said.

Mattare says open land would be purchased with the idea of creating undeveloped space where people could enjoy it a number of ways, such hiking trails or space for farmers markets. At the same time, he says there would be less need to build infrastructure to support homes and businesses, thus saving money. The Rathdrum Prairie aquifer would also be protected from possible contamination with better drainage during rain events with less paved surfaces.

Mattare says the actual cost to homeowners would kick in only when an actual property is purchased. The money would be collected through property taxes, to be paid off at a 20-year amortization rate. He says the county could spread out purchases, buying a $5 million property one year, then waiting another three years before another parcel. 

“In essence, we would have one 20-year note that we would take this year, then one 20-year note we would take three years from now. We would paying both at the same time, but the first would finish three years before the second one, and so you would really see a fluctuation in your property tax depending on when and the interval that we take on the debt,” he said.

Mattare says if the entire $50 million dollars was spent on properties at once, the cost to a homeowner would have been $8 a year per $100,000 of assessed value of their home.

A citizens committee would evaluate the properties, and present them to the commissioners, who would make the final decision on any purchase.

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.