"I voted for it. I'm in law enforcement and I know what would be the impact of not having firefighters and of not having mental health care and making it that much tougher on us," Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Doug Francis said after casting his vote at United Methodist Church in the Audubon Park neighborhood in northwest Spokane.
In Tuesday's returns, Spokane voters were favoring the tax hike 60 percent to 40 percent.
The levy lid lift, city Proposition One, is one component of a three-pronged emergency bailout Mayor Jim West has proposed to cover a $6.8 million shortfall in the city's general fund for the 2006 budget. The proposition seeks voter approval to raise property taxes by roughly three percent -- or about $32 on a $100,000 home -- for the next two years.
West says the proposition, much like a school levy, "will be extended again in two years [with voter approval] and for every two years after that."
West sees city expenses outpacing city revenue for years to come and, whether the tax hike lives or dies at the polls this week, "I am going to tell the employees on Friday that we have work to do to rebuild the credibility of the city so people will be willing to pay for services."
Credibility has suffered because this is the fourth time in five budget years that the city has come up at least $6 million short. Last year it was $12 million. Hundreds of city workers have been laid off and departments have squeezed their budgets. Of the departments drawing money from the general fund, libraries, police and fire have taken significant hits during these cutbacks.
West, who is facing a recall election on Dec. 6, has appealed to voters to hike their property taxes; he's asked the city council to bump the city utility tax by three percent to a state-highest 20 percent; and he has asked the city's four largest unions to give back $850,000 in salary and benefits. Together, the three patches would cover the hole in the general fund, West says. If any of the legs fall off this fragile construct, the City Council must make more deep cuts -- especially to the already stretched police and fire.
The violins from West didn't sway at least one North Side voter. "I voted against it," Sarah LaSarte said. "They don't serve all areas of the city equally. I live in Hillyard, and we don't get the same quality of service as on the South Hill."
Meanwhile, on the South Hill, retired real estate office manager Allene Henry said she voted for the measure. "I think it's a good deal."
But another South Hill resident, architecture photographer Bill Campbell, said, "I'm in a real quandary as to what to do about the city of Spokane. Maybe if they were more clear about how they were going to use it, rather than just, 'This is to fix the budget.'"
Voter Sheila McEvoy, in the near-north Logan neighborhood, said she hears the argument that people should shoot down the tax hike because it is just asking citizens to shoulder another in a string of short-term solutions to a long-term problem. But "I voted for it. I feel the needs of the city are so high," McEvoy said.