Tuesday AM Recap 2/15/11: Library Levy & TBD Funding

The Spokane Library has never lost a ballot measure and I think we could have continued that streak in April, but the Mayor and the majority of the Council felt the better option is to look at general levy lid lift that can help fund police, fire, and libraries all at once. In a meeting last week the mayor presented the rough outline of an alternative plan; 1) get recommendations from the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee, 2) determine the need more specifically for 2012 budget and beyond, 3) come up with a strategy to fund the need, and plan for accountability, and ask voters for their support–possibly as soon as August of this year. That plan was enough for me to agree to table the library levy while we work on a alternative. The whole council agreed and tabling the measure was unanimous.

This tabling in no way reflects negatively on the library or the library board who have been great to work with during this whole process and who brought forward the levy lid lift partly in do to urging of Councilmembers like myself. The Library is the least funded major service in the City, behind police, fire, streets, and parks and even if the levy had gone on the ballot and passed this would not have changed those priorities. The library still has less resources available to it now than it did when I was a kid, when the City still had ten branches instead of six, and was open often until 9PM. Despite the decline in resources the library has done an amazing job stretching it’s budget and innovating in its service delivery with things like self checkout, improved computer services, improved online research, digital audio book checkout, and important economic development collaborations with Greater Spokane Incorporated and Work Source. A dollar spent on the library is a dollar well-spent in our city and I am committed to looking for a solution that keeps all branches open next year.

The next big item on the agenda on the agenda was the Transportation Benefit District (TBD). The Council took three key actions on this: 1) Changing the scope of the TBD to exclude capital projects and focus just on pavement maintenance with 10% going to pedestrian projects and sidewalks, 2) form a citizen’s advisory committee to vet the best way to spend the money which would includes members from each district 3) fund the TBD with twenty $20 a year in car tabs. Councilmembers Shogan, Rush, Waldref and myself all voted to approve these three actions with all others voter against them.

So why do we need $20 car tab fees for our streets? Among other reasons:

– Because of the bad state of our streets we are passing on the cost of deferred maintenance to our citizens already. In a sense you’re paying a tax right now in the form front end alignments, replaced struts, lost hubcaps, and decreased fuel efficiency. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) estimates that the average annual cost of poor street condition to citizens is $335 per motorist. It’s probably even higher than that in a cold weather climate like Spokane.

– Our tax collection for property, real estate, and sales tax–the sources of street funds–have all dropped dramatically in the last five years, yet the cost of material for repairing the streets continues to rise. Asphalt, concrete, road paint costs have all risen, sometimes by double digits.

– The street department has had targeted and across the board cuts for the past three years. When budgets are tight police and fire will always take priority. Our streets have been paying the price.

– Most estimates say that $1 in preventative maintenance saves $7 in road reconstruction. We can’t just keep kicking this problem down the road and making it more expensive.

– The 2004 Street Bond only pays for complete reconstruction of the the worst of the worst streets–it doesn’t cover any preventative maintenance like pot hole filling, crack sealing, and grind and overlay. More street maintenance protects our street bond investment and lessens the need for complete reconstruction.

Some Councilmembers have complained long and hard about the state of our streets yet have voted against opportunities to fund them better. We can’t do this any longer. The streets won’t fix themselves. The only other way way to help fix the streets is to reduce the amount of driving that is done on them. As you may know I am hard at work on that solution as well, always looking for ways to encourage transportation choices for our citizens which is the cheapest and easiest way to reduce wear and tear on the roads.

The Council was lucky enough to receive two sets of valentines last night: one from Grant Elementary students supporting libraries, and another from Complete Streets supporters organized by Futurewise. Thanks for these! Hopefully we can be your policy sweethearts. In other business we approved and advertising contract with the daily newspaper, a new local improvement district, and an emergency ordinance regarding budget carry over. Next week we will have a hearing on zoning plans surrounding both Spokane International Airport and Felts Field.


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