In the spring of 2001, BRB was a four-letter word.
Incorporation proponents, anxious for a November election, were unnerved over the five-member Spokane County Boundary Review Board’s decision to move proposed public hearings on the proposed city of Spokane Valley’s borders until August.
“There’s a possibility this won’t make it in time (for the general election),” said then-BRB member Larry Stone, who was reluctant to move forward with hearings until Spokane County adopted its comprehensive plan, which included its future urban growth boundaries.
After filing incorporation papers the previous August, hopefuls were deflated as the decision was just one more delay in the long road of forming a Spokane Valley city.
The November 2001 election date, however, came and went. A legal fight with the city of Spokane over the tax-rich industrial Yardley area in the western portion of the slowed the process down. However, in this instance, the members of the BRB were considered heroes by incorporationists: The board decreed Yardley should be in Spokane Valley’s borders.
“I’d hate to saddle this city with the loss of 10 percent in sales tax revenue,” BRB member Doug Beu said at the time, as the area also contained a Costco and Home Depot.
It was a major milestone in the 44-year history of a quasi-judiciary body that typically settles border adjustments between water districts and annexation requests from neighboring fire jurisdictions.
Just over 10 years later, while never brought up by name, Costco wasn’t all that far from the minds of members of the Boundary Review Board as they held their final meeting on Monday. The loss of the large retail giant on North Division to annexation by the city of Spokane – a “foregone conclusion” due to state rules under the Growth Management Act, according to county Commissioner Mark Richard – was one instance in recent memory that is indicative of the BRB’s impotence in commissioners’ minds in affecting an outcome in the county’s favor.
“The BRB as an independent body has little effect to make sure that when annexations occur they are equitable,” Richard said Dec. 8 before voting to dissolve the 44-year-old board forever. GMA, he said, now sets the bar for where urbanized commercial areas should be located, and that’s in cities and not in unincorporated county space.
That frustration, said Boundary Review Board members on Monday, is the real reason they will not convene again in 2012 – not the budget savings Spokane County will gain by not having to fund the $220,000 annual cost.
“They did their homework,” board member David Troyke said of the commissioners. “I think they came to the conclusion there’s no benefit to have to pay a board to assist cities in annexations.”
The commissioners did agree to fund the BRB office $44,391 in the current budget to pay the salaries of its three staff members through January. After that, the technical duties of the board will largely fall Spokane County planning staff members and to the entities initiating annexations or border changes that the BRB would normally handle.
Those jurisdictions will also be responsible organization of any necessary public hearings. But BRB board members note it will be the elected officials of cities, fire districts and other governing bodies that will have a vested interest in the outcome of those hearings that will hold the gavel. Any challenges to those decisions will have to be voiced in the courts, not by the independent BRB.
“I don’t think (the commissioners) care,” Troyke said. “They feel it won’t be any worse than it is now.”
There are 17 counties in the state – mainly larger ones – that still have independent boundary review boards. Many smaller counties have never had them at all. Under state law, the Boundary Review Board may be dissolved if comprehensive plans and consistent development regulations are in place.
Susan Winchell, longtime director of the BRB, said that consistency – developed by her and staff with board members’ cooperation -- may have assisted in their own demise.
“Maybe we’ve been too good at our job,” she said.
Before adjourning for the final time, Troyke and fellow board members Phyllis Meyer, Marilyn Highberg, Stephen Pohl and James Peck thanked Winchell for her work
“It’s been a pleasure working with all of you,” Meyer said.
While saying they respected the commissioners’ choice, board members said they hoped it would not prove to be a mistake.
“In the the long run they think they’ll benefit from this decision,”
Troyke said. “Time will tell if they will or not.”