A ballot question on whether to change Sprague and Appleway to two directions between University and Argonne moved a bit farther down the roadway Tuesday.
Despite protests from one council member that paying for a road-improvement project through property taxes is unprecedented in Spokane Valley, the City Council agreed to put the matter up for a final decision in a special meeting next Monday night at 6 p.m. at Spokane Valley City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.
The council voted 6-1 – with Council Member Bill Gothmann offering a vehement “no” – to approve a first reading of the ordinance that would place the $6.52 million bond issue on the November general election ballot.
Over a 20-year repayment period at 4-percent interest, that would cost property owners $13.40 each year on a $200,000 home.
However, concerns have been raised that the bond amount being proposed is disingenuous because only $1.6 million is actually needed for the two-way conversion of Sprague and Appleway. The extra money would be used for repaving and stormwater upgrades ($1.8 million) and landscaping ($3 million).
Business owners in the affected area – such as Dick Behm – have long championed a reversion to two-way traffic but fear the council is loading the bond question with extras that will kill it at the polls.
“You are asking the citizens for a blank check,” Behm said. “You have designed this bond issue to fail by making it unnecessarily too expensive.”
Behm also said the city had at one time a $4.2 million state grant appropriated by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council for the extension of Appleway/Sprague past University Road that was lost once the council dissolved the controversial Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan earlier this year. The city may also be required to pay back $300,000 in federal dollars for an environmental assessment of the affected area.
“Without the council doing their homework and making quick, uninformed snap decisions, there are unintended consequences,” Behm said. “They gave away the $4.2 million that was approved by SRTC and will have to pay back the $300,000.”
Longtime community member and attorney Howard Herman agreed that voters will never agree to pay more taxes for a Sprague/Appleway conversion and that the decision will endanger lives. Spokane Valley Fire Department officials have been long concerned – since the couplet was opened a decade ago – that westbound-only Sprague adds critical seconds for eastbound emergency response out of Station 1 at 10319 E. Sprague, as trucks must circle the block to go eastbound on Appleway.
Last September, Valley Fire commissioners agreed to draft a letter to the city of Spokane Valley expressing concerns that the couplet ads up to a minute and 20 seconds to response times for calls east of the station. At that time, the couplet was planned to eventually be changed back to two-way in the affected area under SARP.
Herman said the city of Spokane’s fire department recently was making equipment improvements in order to shave off precious response-time seconds.
“They’re doing that in order to decrease their response times by 15 to 30 seconds,” he said, “and here we’re giving away a minute and 20 seconds and we don’t think anything about it.”
Both Herman and Behm said the council needs to take more time and get more public input before moving any further.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” Behm said. “Go back and look at your options. Come up with a plan the whole city can endorse.”
Council Member Chuck Hafner said he was unclear if the $4.2 million could have been used for the two-way conversion since it had been initially approved for the extension of Appleway. The right-of-way currently belongs to Spokane County.
“Until we own the right-of-way we cannot use that $4.2 million,” he said.
Council Member Arne Woodard said he is concerned about the public-safety issue but after talking with Battalion Chief Stan Cooke he believed some of the fire department’s issues with response times from Station 1 had been dealt with.
“Part of that has been addressed. It’s not a minute-20 anymore. It’s more like 50 seconds,” Woodard said.
Fire Chief Mike Thompson then approached the podium.
“Chief Cooke has not been involved in that process,” he said. “Chief Cooke does not speak for the fire department as far as response times.”
Council Member Bill Gothmann said a city memo addresses the issue of the $4.2 million could be used if could be shown it would be used for improvements to the Sprague-Appleway corridor. He added, however, that won’t happen as the council currently has no plan for arterials since the dissolution of SARP. Under the “no-plan plan,” he said, grant dollars are no longer an option and the city is forced to go to the voters to ask them to fund the improvements through property taxes.
Gothmann said he believes that the bond amount being asked for has been driven up through opting for the “Cadillac style” landscaping that is the most expensive choice. That decision, he said, will likely cause voters to reject the request.
Worse, he said, the majority of the council is favoring businesses east of University where road improvements have already been made without having to ask voters to pay through property taxes.
“I think there is a pattern here, and I’m going to call a spade a spade,” Gothmann said. “I think it’s a pattern of favoritism.”
Council Member Dean Grafos countered that there was never any funding for a Sprague-Appleway conversion SARP.
“I just think we have a lot of needs in this city,” Grafos said. “I just think it’s time for the citizens of this city to decide what’s going to happen with that section of road.”
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels said he would move the issue forward to a second reading, but “I’ve always said this is a council responsibility, not a voter responsibility.”
Mayor Tom Towey said he would agree – if the city had the grant money to pay for the conversion.
“Then it would be a council decision,” he said. “We’re asking the people for the money to change that road. I do believe it’s the people’s decision. They’re the ones who are going to pay for it.
They’re the ones who are going to have to get it out of their pocket to pay for it.”
The council will meet on Monday to make its final decision on the issue as Tuesday, Aug. 16, is the deadline to file a resolution with the Spokane County Elections Office for the Nov. 8 general election.
Cost to the city to put the bond question on the ballot is $25,000.