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The City's Visa Bill 

by Pia K. Hansen

Today, the city is already paying off a number of bonds. Back in 1991, voters approved a $20,750,000 bond for the new downtown library. Taxpayers still owe $18,260,000 on that one, and it adds $29 per $100,000 assessed property value to homeowners' property tax bill every year.

In 1999, voters approved a $14,975,000 bond for park improvements across the city, including the purchase of the north bank property, where a science center may be located. Today, $13,700,000 is still owed on that bond. This one adds $18 per $100,000 assessed property value to your tax bill.

Also in '99, voters signed on to a $21,400,000 bond for the fire department -- on which $18,050,000 is still owed. That one adds $33 to your property tax bill per $100,000 of assessed home value. All together, that's a total of $50,010,000 in debt the city already is obligated to pay off.

And there's more: depending on which tax district you live in, you're probably also paying for a school levy, a fire district bond, the Arena or any number of local levies. Then there's the waste-to-energy plant, which was built without a public vote; the bonds used to pay it off are tied to the tipping fees you pay for garbage service or if you haul junk out to the plant.

There are also the bonds that the city council alone has enacted, also known as revenue bonds.

"The city council can approve bonds without the voters' approval," says Cook. On that account, $17,770,000 is owed on bonds issued for such projects as improvements to Joe Albi Stadium, some City Hall improvements and the acquisition of mobile computers for the police, and some updates at the Public Defender's Office -- just to mention a few.

"Revenue bonds" refers to the way they are paid -- from the city's annual cash flow. As a result, no additional property taxes are levied to pay such bonds.

Still, the City of Spokane currently owes $67,780,000 on bonds. This does not include the bonds used to purchase the River Park Square parking garage; those were issued by the Downtown Spokane Foundation. The city's involvement in that project has, however, led to the city's bond rating being downgraded a couple of notches. That makes borrowing more expensive, but with interest rates at near-historic lows, the cost of borrowing is lower now than just about ever before.

Adding yet another $50 million to this balance would land the city's bill at $117,780,000.

"It's the biggest street-repair bond in the history of Spokane, as far as I know," says Cook. "The last one that passed was in 1988, and that was $15 million for the streets and $4.6 million for parks." That bond was paid off in January 1998.
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