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Spokane voters supporting library tax renewal at 55%

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(The Center Square) – Spokane voters are supporting renewal of a property tax levy to continue funding city library operations and a separate measure to revamp the process of redistricting city council positions.

Based on preliminary returns from Tuesday’s special elections, Measure 1 – the library operations levy – had garnered 55.5% of the vote, above the simple majority needed for passage. Initial tallies released by the Spokane County Auditor’s Office showed 21,130 votes in favor and 16,971 opposed.

If approved, the measure will replace a current levy set to expire at the end of 2024. Property owners will continue to pay 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That equates to about $28 per year for the owner of a home valued at $400,000. The levy would raise an estimated $2.5 million for library operations in 2025, nearly $2.53 million in 2026, and $2.55 million in 2027.

Voters approved previous levy measures at the same rate in 2013 and 2017. The funds provide about 18% of the city library system’s annual operational budget.

Earlier this month, the Spokane City Council approved a resolution supporting the levy proposal. Council President Betsy Wilkerson called libraries “a community hub” that serve the public in multiple ways, offering free access to books, movies, music, computers and printers, meeting rooms, events and more.

In November 2018, voters approved a $77 million bond to build three new libraries and renovate four existing libraries in Spokane. Construction began in spring of 2020 but continued mostly on schedule during the pandemic. Four libraries opened in 2021: The Hive, Shadle Park Library, Liberty Park Library and Hillyard Library. The Central (downtown) Library opened in July 2022 followed by the renovated South Hill and Indian Trail facilities.

On Tuesday, voters also gave strong support to Measure 2, which calls for revamping the process that establishes district boundaries for city council positions.

The measure was passing at 66.7%, with 24,664 votes in favor and 12,290 opposed.

The city has three defined legislative districts, each with two elected representatives serving on the council. By law, government jurisdictions with legislative bodies at the local, state, and federal levels must establish commissions every 10 years to set voting districts that fairly balance populations based on the most recent decennial census.

As proposed, Measure 2 calls for amending Spokane’s city charter to implement a new redistricting process. Changes would include:

expanding the current redistricting commission from three to seven members to provide greater representation reflecting “geographic and demographic diversity;”increasing the number of meetings by the commission in its redistricting deliberations, restricting special interest and political influences, and prioritizing boundaries for neighborhoods and communities “of shared interests” while recognizing natural boundaries; andintroducing an option for citizen-led redistricting and prohibiting the city council itself from modifying district maps.

“… the Spokane City Council understands the need to modify and update the existing redistricting process … in fairness, inclusivity, and transparency,” stated a resolution adopted by the council last week.

The recent redistricting process follows a legal dispute in which a Spokane County Superior Court judge recommended that the council rewrite the city’s charter provisions due to “ambiguous language” in favor of a process that “removes all questions of self-interest or partisanship.”

Spokane County elections officials will continue updating results as more ballots are processed in the days ahead. Final results must be certified by Feb. 23 for submittal to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office.