On Feb. 12, Spokane voters will decide whether they want to let the city raise their property taxes beyond the allowed amount in order to pay for about 30 firefighters and 20 police officers.
Proposition 1, put to voters by Spokane City Council, would raise the regular property tax levy 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, except for eligible seniors and people with disabilities. That's $60 a year for a home assessed at $200,000.
Starting in 2020, the roughly $5.8 million per year from the tax would pay for most of 48 firefighter positions currently funded with federal grant money set to expire this year. The firefighters were hired for a pilot program to test "alternative response units" (also called ARUs) that can respond to medical calls while leaving other fire trucks available.
Not everyone is convinced the pilot has proven to be effective.
"We wrote a grant to test some things in the fire department, and we have yet to demonstrate whether the community has received a benefit from that," says City Administrator Theresa Sanders. "The quarterly performance measures have not improved with the addition of these positions."
But City Council President Ben Stuckart says those positions in particular are worth saving, as they have helped keep the city's response times reasonable despite more demand being placed on the department.
"Over the last two years, we've seen a 30 percent increase in the number of medical calls," Stuckart says. "What it's allowed us to do — having those ARUs out there — is keep our response times level."
The levy money would also help fund five new downtown police officers, additional behavioral health unit officers, and more detectives to work on property crimes, in addition to other positions focused on neighborhood policing.
"The No. 1 concern I hear from citizens, in person, at council meetings, email, phone calls, is concern with crime, and these 20 additional police officers will help us catch up to the numbers we need," Stuckart says. "We've heard overwhelmingly this is [voters'] priority, so they deserve a chance to say if they want to purchase those services."