On a night when most were tuned in to see who would win the White House, Spokane Valley City Hall was packed with residents Tuesday wondering if they would be taxed to heat their own homes.
Several spoke against the proposed 6-percent utility tax, which would replace an existing 6-percent telephone tax earmarked for road maintenance in the city. However, public outcry had already seen the first-reading of the proposed ordinance removed from the Nov. 8 council agenda.
The scheduled public hearing on the issue remained, though, prompting angry citizens to question the “surprise” of a new tax along with its possible effect on those on fixed incomes.
“When is asphalt more important than people?” Greenacres resident Mary Pollard asked the City Council, which scheduled the hearing against Election Night coverage. “This is an overreaching kind of thing.”
The proposed tax would not only be levied against power usage, but also water, natural gas, garbage and sewer use. Since Spokane Valley is served by multiple utility districts, the impacts to each are not widely known.
Many, however, notified their customers that the council would be discussing the issue Tuesday and stated that potential tax increases could be passed on to users.
“It is unfortunate that the city of Spokane Valley is imposing a utility tax on water, which is a basic need for life,” Ty Wick, general manager of Spokane County Water District 3, wrote. “The new tax will disproportionally impact low-income persons and persons on fixed incomes the most.”
Wick added that, if approved, the district “would have no choice but to increase water rates accordingly…”
The tax would generate over $7 million per year, which would cover the nearly $6.5 million city officials believes it needs to maintain roadways. The existing phone tax, as more and more switch away from landlines, only generates about $2.3 million and continues to decrease.
With the proposed tax removed from the agenda, Katherine Morgan, president and CEO of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she looks forward to working with city leaders to discuss the issue further at a meeting in December.
Meanwhile, the council will hold a meeting with utility officials next Thursday, Nov. 17, at 8:30 a.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague, to discuss the issue along with other matters.