The Spokane Valley City Council decided, in a split vote last week, to move forward with creating a generic large-capital projects fund in order to draw from for big-ticket items.
That decision, along with a 6-1 vote to forego collecting a 1-percent increase in property tax for 2013, marked a discussion-filled meeting where council members debated philosophy and practicality with regard to next year’s budget.
It was already known from a first reading of the ordinance last month that the council would not likely take the tax increase, which would have raised $108,000. Still, there were arguments made that the money could have been directed toward street preservation, a big priority of the current council.
“I’ve not had one person come back and say they wouldn’t support a 1-percent increase,” Wick told the council at the Oct. 9 meeting.
Others said it could also hurt the city’s chances of getting projects funded from the state when the Legislature convenes in January.
“An area legislator told me way should we give you this money when you don’t take advantage of what’s available,” said Mayor Tom Towey.
Council Member Brenda Grassel argued that, if anything, the city’s tax rate should be lowered in order to make the city more attractive to new business.
“You should not take a tax because you can,” agreed Council Member Dean Grafos.
Council Member Ben Wick was the only one who voted against the others in not seeking the tax.
With that out of the way, the council discussed the pros and cons of setting some money aside for potential projects in 2013, including funds for a replacement for the Sullivan Road Bridge, parks and a new city hall. While the bridge replacement got the most support, some council members balked at setting aside money for projects that the majority of them have not yet approved.
The idea, according to City Manager Mike Jackson, would be to draw down some of the city’s reserves by $7.8 million, leaving $17.7 million, or 51 percent of the general fund budget, in the bank.
Council Member Gary Schimmels, who has been on the council since incorporation in 2003, said the council needs to be careful moving forward.
“We’ve spent nine years building these funds,” Schimmels said. “If we keep eating away at the reserves, we won’t even be able to fix the streets.”
Schimmels and Wick joined Towey in voting against creating a capital projects fund.
“I think it’s wise for this council to start setting money aside for future expenditures,” Towey said, rather than “pick away” at a capital fund.
The council is expected to pass the city’s 2013 budget on Oct. 30.