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Spokane mayor proposes ‘monstrous’ annual $40M public safety levy

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(The Center Square) – Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown claims public safety in the city could be at risk if a significant new tax levy isn’t approved to fill holes in the budget.

Brown said the Community Safety Levy could raise around $40 million annually over the next five years if it passes. Property owners would shoulder the cost at an additional tax of $1 per $1000 of assessed property value, costing the median owner approximately $323 more in taxes each year.

“With this levy, we can provide people with the assurances that the things that they care about can actually be funded by the city,” Brown said during a press conference on Friday.

The Community Safety Levy aims to increase Spokane’s emergency preparedness, bolster traffic safety, create community resilience hubs and help with future infrastructure planning.

If the levy fails to pass, Brown said residents will feel a significant impact on the city’s current public safety capacity, and around 200 people could face losing their jobs.

Two-thirds of the funds garnered by the levy would fill expanding deficits in Spokane’s budget, while the rest would create new programs and expand current ones. According to a slideshow provided by Spokane’s City Council, the proposed levy would allocate the funds as such over the next five years:

$100 million toward law enforcement$84 million to fire and support services$5.6 million to court enhancements$1.8 to community resilience$1.2 million to a watchdog group overseeing the police department

“There were budgets brought forward by the previous administration that did not utilize or raise sufficient revenues to cover ongoing expenses,” Brown said, “and so, one time funds were used, reserves were utilized. In essence, a hole was dug.”

Brown will need the city council’s support to advance the levy if she hopes to bring the proposed tax to Spokane’s ballot in August. However, one councilmember is skeptical of Brown’s approach to budgetary issues.

Councilmember Michael Cathcart said his own family would undoubtedly feel the weight of this tax hike if passed.

“There are no proposals to really demonstrate to the voters that we are going to act in an incredibly fiscal responsible and fiscally restraining way,” Cathcart said.

As proposed, the levy would be permanent, with no end in sight. It’s not fixed at five years and only increases expenditures without much attempt to cut in other areas, he said. At a minimum, he said the city needs to monitor its impact and provide a date for future re-evaluation.

Cathcart wants specifics written into the proposal about how much the levy will cost people and where these investments are guaranteed to go. He said constituents need to know what will happen if it fails to pass rather than a blanket statement about significant impacts on public safety.

“It’s going to be a pretty tall order to get the voters to approve something this monstrous,” Cathcart said.