It’s been a problem that’s faced city leaders since incorporation in 2003: How to find a sustainable funding source for road maintenance.
Next Tuesday night, the Spokane Valley City Council will gauge reaction to the latest solution: a proposed utility tax that could generate up to the $7 million or so necessary to preserve city streets.
The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 8 – yes, that’s election night -- at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague Ave.
The council will consider an up to a 6-percent tax -- which is estimated to raise just over $7.7 million per year -- on electric natural gas, sewer, solid-waste disposal and water services. A first reading of the proposed ordinance is also scheduled for Tuesday, with a second reading for final passage planned for Nov. 15.
The tax would replace the city’s existing 6-percent tax on landline phone service, which has been in place for years. However, with more people now using cell phones, the city has seen an annual averaged decrease of almost 5 percent each year. So far in 2016, the city has collected 8.82-percent less in telephone utility taxes than during the same time in 2015.
Since 2004, the city has counted on the tax to help augment other funding sources – such as Real Estate Excise Taxes -- to pay for street maintenance and pavement preservation. If approved, the new utility tax would only go toward that purpose.
Council members expressed concerns at Tuesday night meetings that it could be a hardship on the Valley’s 13 water districts and other utilities to track city customers and collect the tax.
“This is going to take a lot of extra work,” said Council Member Sam Wood, who also serves as chairman of the board of the Carnhope Irrigation District. “The cost of doing so will probably be dealt with in raising water rates.”
Council Member Pam Haley estimated that the tax, if approved, would cost her an additional $25 per month.
“I can absorb it, but I’m not sure everyone could,” she said.
Council Member Ed Pace said that he preferred a utility tax to an increase in property taxes because it is something that families can control by monitoring energy usage.
“We got disciplined, and we save way more than $25 a month,” he said.
Mayor Rod Higgins said that if the city opts to collect the full 6 percent, that amount could be lowered in the future if more money is collected than necessary.
“If we shot a little high, it could be reduced,” he said.
Also at next Tuesday’s meeting, there will be a public hearing on the city’s 2017 Comprehensive Plan update.
Finally, the council heard a report from city legal staff on Tuesday on how Spokane Valley could potentially “de-annex” from the Spokane County Library District. Basically, city voters would have to be asked and approve such a decision by a simple majority.
The council requested the information in light of two bond failures by voters to approve a new library across the street from the under-construction new city hall at Dartmouth Road and Sprague Avenue. While council members have expressed a desire for a new library to be a part of an expanded Balfour Park, the SCLD board of trustees has stated it has no interest in trying a third time to get a bond passed.
City officials said they would be meeting with library representatives in the near future to see if there are any other possible options to get a new Valley main branch built on the property.
Meanwhile, Mayor Rod Higgins said the report was requested only to gather information.
“This is only an exploration of possibilities in the event of…” he said. “There is not necessarily any pending action.”