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Promise Keepers? 

The city of Spokane tries to keep its promise not to raise taxes; plus, the fight against public nudity

click to enlarge Big Shots Espresso. - KYNDALL ELLIOTT
  • Kyndall Elliott
  • Big Shots Espresso.

Tax Mistake

When supporters of the Spokane streets levy were campaigning, one message was hammered home again and again: It would not RAISE TAXES.

Now, it looks like that may turn out not to be true for some taxpayers. Certain low-income seniors and disabled residents were exempt from paying the property taxes in street bonds. When voters approved in November the new street levy, replacing expiring street bond funding, city staffers assumed that the exemption would remain the same.

"We thought we had done our due diligence," says Marlene Feist, the city's utilities communications manager. City staffers had read the county website's explanation of the tax exemption and thought they were on solid ground.

But in December, the county assessor's office sent the city a letter, explaining that since the new street levy was of a different type than the old street bond, the same level of exemptions wouldn't apply, and taxes would increase for some.

"I'm empathetic to the city. Their intentions were good," says Byron Hodgson, chief deputy assessor for Spokane County. "But the assessor is strapped by the law."

Earlier this month, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance to create a local tax exemption to stop taxes from increasing, but that didn't work either.

"Basically the state of Washington Department of Revenue and the attorney general wrote a letter [to the county assessor], saying this type of ordinance exceeded [the city of Spokane's] authority," says Hodgson. "The assessor has been directed not to implement the ordinance."

It's left the Spokane City Council and city administration scrambling to figure out a way to legally collect less tax and keep their promise.

"The county has gone ahead and mailed the bills," Feist says. "We may be in the refund business for people who already paid."

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the recipient of the letter from the Washington Department of Revenue (DANIEL WALTERS)

SHOWING SOME SKIN

Supporters of an initiative petition meant to regulate PUBLIC NUDITY in Spokane have surpassed the 2,477 signature threshold needed to trigger a hearing before the Spokane City Council, which is schedule to hear the issue on March 2.

The city's legislative body will have the option of voting into law the initiative, which is aimed at coffee stands featuring nude or nearly nude baristas, but will likely send it to the city clerk to have the signatures validated. If they are validated, the initiative will appear on the November ballot.

The proposed initiative was filed by Beth Solscheid last year. If passed, the initiative would affect the whole city, but was crafted to provide some sort of laws for "bikini barista" coffee stands that have popped up in Spokane in recent years, which have caused alarm among concerned parents. The initiative defines what body parts can and cannot be displayed in public, with an exception made for breastfeeding mothers. Supporters say the initiative is needed because some stands aren't bikini baristas, but rather feature full-on nude servers.

"We're not asking for anything unreasonable," says Kimberly Curry, a Spokane mother of four who has worked on the initiative. "They're fine in bikinis and bras, but coming outside [their stands] in pasties and G-strings is not what we want for our community." (JAKE THOMAS)

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