Good morning. Thank you for taking time from your day to join us here to discuss our city.
In my view, the purpose of government, once it has fulfilled its basic mission of providing for public safety, roads for the conduct of commerce and life, and infrastructure to make our lives easier and more enjoyable, is to create and maintain a business-friendly climate. That done, government should move out of the way and let people and the marketplace interact to function without excessive regulation, taxation or other intervention.
Our city of Spokane Valley has lots going for it, and it also faces some very significant challenges. I’d like to discuss some of those with you and open a dialog to exchange ideas on how best to address them.
Let’s begin with trains transiting our city:
Our city, Spokane Valley, is divided by two railroads that carry all sorts of freight and commodities from the heart of our country to ports on the West Coast such as Seattle and Portland.
Sheer numbers indicate a vibrant economy. However, for us, those numbers are proving to be an ever increasing problem. On the Burlington Northern Santa Fe track, upward of 60 trains per day pass through here with projections of well more than that in the not too distant future.
On the Union Pacific track we have 10 trains per day currently, with estimates that that number will double in the next five years. These in turn create additional problems such as blowing horns.
The frequency with which train horns blow at all hours of the night are a continuous disturbance of our lives. More trains mean more interrupted sleep patterns and other nuisances disrupting our living patterns.
Whenever trains and people meet on the same level, the results can be negative. The solution is to avoid that interaction whenever possible.
This, of course, is best done by separating the grades on which the two entities travel.
The solution sounds simple, and indeed in concept it is. However, the cost to create underpasses or bridges to separate trains from pedestrians, bikes and motor vehicles is daunting to say the least.
We’ve identified four major crossings that must be addressed as soon as is practically possible. Cost is the major consideration in all four. Immediate need is the major aspect driving prioritization.
Those crossings are:
- Barker Road at Trent (Highway 290). Estimated cost $36 million
- Pines Road at Trent. Estimated cost $20 million
- Sullivan Road near our Industrial Park. Estimated cost $20million
- Park Road at Trent. Estimated cost $24million
That totals an even $100 million
Why is it so important to us to complete those crossings? Aside from those already mentioned, other advantages will be immediate:
First and foremost is safe passage through those crossings
Then there’s the obvious smoothing of the traffic flow
Providing the ability to close other crossings creates an avenue where trains don’t need to blow their horns at all. This of course must happen with railroad cooperation.
Another major advantage will be the enhanced opportunities for business development on both sides of Trent Avenue.
We will use whatever means available to gain outside help for development of the areas immediately adjacent to those intersections as well as the rest of our city north of Trent.
Taken in total, the $100 million cost appears insurmountable; however, if we address the projects individually, they’re not quite so daunting.
Here’s what we’re doing to remedy the situation: We’ve applied for TIGER and FASTLANE federal grants for Barker and Pines. TIGER grants could provide up to 80 percent of the Barker project, and with other accumulated funds for that project, we would be within striking distance of achievement.
FASTLANE grants can provide up to 60% of a project’s funding, and we’ve applied for FASTLANE grants on both Barker and Pines, as well as the TIGER grant on Barker.
In addition, we’re also exploring other public and private partnerships while soliciting other agency assistance.
But what if those avenues don’t get the job done? Would you be willing to increase your taxes in some fashion to pay for a crossing similar to the one on Argonne, say at Pines Road? As mentioned, the total project cost there would be around $20 million.
If we funded the entire project ourselves, and if you were to agree to increase your property tax to fund that project for 30 years, it would equate to 16 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, or about a $16 per year increase on a $100,000 home.
Do not mistake my question as a proposal to raise taxes. I’m asking if you feel an underpass at Pines and Trent is important enough for you to consider paying a little extra for it.
Drive by the Pines crossing where it meets Trent. Take a moment to look carefully at that intersection. Now turn west and drive to Argonne. Compare the difference in development. Pines at Trent could look like the Argonne intersection if we want it to.
We’ll be exploring and discussing these issues with you. We welcome your input.
An important part of our ability to grow, and how we accomplish that growth, is encompassed in our city Comprehensive Plan.
I’ve invited our Director of Community Services and Business Development, John Hohman, to briefly describe our work on revising that Comprehensive Plan.
John Hohman: The city is currently well into the process of updating our Comprehensive Plan. As many of you know, the existing plan was created 10 years ago and doesn’t work well for our community. The new plan will be compliant with the growth management act, but we want to do more than just meet state requirements.
We want to ensure our plan represents community priorities and incorporates economic development initiatives such as the retail and tourism improvement strategies that we have recently developed. The comp plan will have strategic actions to focus resources and will serve as the basis for the city’s economic development efforts.
Our goal is to have a plan that works for the community, improves the local economy and minimizes the need for annual amendments.
Another component of the update is to ensure the development regulations are consistent with the comp plan. We intend to streamline the comp plan and development regulations as we have with our permitting processes as we continue to expand upon our existing business friendly environment.
How are we going to do this? By minimizing regulation while maintaining good order. By enhancing our already enviable service with understandable regulations that provide certainty for our citizens and business owners alike.
The new comp plan will follow the direction set in our recently completed Shoreline Management Plan. Our staff, in conjunction with capable consultants, broke new ground in establishing what could be done in protecting our cherished river while preserving and enhancing private property rights. In rewriting our
Comprehensive Plan we will be striving to do the same with how we plan to manage and balance our city’s growth.
It’s important here to recognize what we’ve managed to achieve over the past few years in attracting new business as well as retaining those already located within Spokane Valley. Many new multi-family buildings are available for new residents to rent. This drives further retail development to prosper including new stores and restaurants like the ones within this mall. Medical offices, distribution centers, and high tech businesses have flourished as well.
We want to continue to assist in supporting opportunity and prosperity for all of those who call the Valley home. (Turn back over to Mayor Higgins.)
On public safety and other legal issues: Regardless of what you’ve heard or read, there is no intent of this council to replace our contract with Spokane County for our policing services. There have been rumors surrounding the upcoming contract negotiations. Those negotiations will commence shortly, and they will include the rigorous analysis of costs and personnel that you might expect of us since we are a contract city.
We will also be examining other aspects of the public safety package of contracts such as courts, public defenders and incarceration.
Speaking of incarceration, the Washington Center for Law and Justice has received a grant to study the implementation of the idea of not needing to jail folks convicted of nonviolent crimes. We’re very interested in that idea and will be watching it closely.
In the last Legislature, we were successful in sponsoring and passing a bill that allows us to recover expenses incurred when we have to clean up properties that present health and safety hazards.
We were supportive of Senator Padden’s bill to enable our local water districts to convert their irrigation water rights to municipal uses without losing those rights to the Department of Ecology. Although that bill did not pass this year, there is a reasonable expectation that it could in the next session. The essence of that legislation is keeping local control of our water, and we will once again be supporting it.
Your city will soon be taking up discussion on adding an annexation code. While we have no current plans to annex anything, if our city is to grow, we will have to move our boundaries outward.
Let’s move on to a discussion of our new city hall. I’ve invited our deputy city manager, Mark Calhoun, to briefly walk us through where we are and where we’re going with that project.
It was a summary of why it was a good idea to own our own city hall that Mark presented back in 2012 that planted the seed that is now blossoming. (Calhoun then gave a brief unscripted presentation.)
In other areas, the revenues that support our road preservation program need attention. We currently rely on a combination of a general fund allocation and a utility tax on telephones to fund our road preservation work.
The telephone tax has been steadily declining in the face of the rising costs of maintaining our roads. While we can maintain our current level of funding for the next few years, it’s anticipated that we will begin incurring shortfalls by 2020 without additional funding. We need to be discussing how we address that problem.
There are several ideas on how to fill that widening revenue gap. One suggestion is to augment our utility tax with a license tab fee increase. Such an increase, in reality a tax, would essentially be a user fee. Unlike a gas tax, which captures only funds from gasoline and diesel users, a tab fee would include all types of motor vehicles that require a license.
Here’s a question you can help answer: There’s a requirement in most grant funds to add bicycle lanes in our road improvements. Bike lanes can add somewhere around 30 percent to those maintenance, construction and repair costs. Should a tab fee of some kind also be applicable to bikes? Such a fee would of course include an exemption for bikers under age 18.
We’re proud of our roads. We maintain them well. But this presents two questions: (1) Do we want to continue them in the fine shape they’re currently in? And, (2), if we need more funding to keep them in good shape, do you have any ideas on where we might look to produce that money? We’re open to your suggestions.
On another topic, there has been an undercurrent of comments that we need to establish a separate city identity starting with a name different than Spokane Valley. This is a discussion that should begin not with City Council but with you the citizens. If there is interest in such a bold move, then let’s get it on the table for public discussion. If you’d like comment, we’d welcome your thoughts.
Our city finances remain very strong. In fact, it’s not an idle boast to tell you that we’re the envy of cities not only across the state, but around the country.
We continue to maintain a working fund balance of at least 50 percent of recurring budgeted expenses. While it’s generally said that a reserve balance of 35 percent is considered an adequate minimum, it’s not uncommon to see cities struggling with fund balances below 20 percent. We prefer to continue with our prudent thriftiness.
Other capital reserve funds give us a safe cushion for unanticipated needs as they arise, while providing the ability to participate in grants which require matching funds.
This is important because approximately 80 percent of our road maintenance and preservation money comes from grant funding. The ability to attract grants is greatly assisted by our capability and willingness to participate with our own money; to have skin in the game, so to speak.
We have continued our policy of not taking the automatic 1 percent property tax increase as permitted by law. This year will be the seventh year that we have declined that tax.
We are committed to managing our city as frugally as possible while maintaining the level of services you’ve come to expect.
In closing, it’s our pleasure and privilege to serve as your governing body. We continue to work to ensure our safety, good roads, and the financial wellbeing of our city while looking to the future for development and expansion opportunities.
These won’t come without growing pains, but Valley citizens are resilient, creative and very hard working, and we will continue to succeed. In terms of longevity, we’re still a very young city, and we’ve accomplished so much in our short lifespan. But there’s so much more to do.
I promise you this: Together we’ll move forward, building and expanding upon the successes we’ve thus far achieved, and we’ll continue to be the envy of everyone in the state.