The road appears to be getting longer to form a transportation benefit district – or TBD -- in Spokane County.
Despite some urging from Spokane Council Member Joe Shogan to go ahead with a $20 fee on vehicle license tabs to supplement the cost of yearly maintenance work, other representatives from that city and Spokane Valley were less sure it was a good idea to take advantage of the “tool” available.
“People want to know what they’re paying for,” said Spokane Valley Council Member Dean Grafos. “I don’t think this is going to fly.”
The discussion was the climax of the third meeting between the two city councils on Monday, and the first gathering where the Valley council has been dominated by members of the “Positive Change” group that was swept into office last November on the promise of fiscal accountability.
Shogan, however, said the time might be right for both cities to approve the $20 fee, which could be done without voter approval, to get the process started.
“My feeling is to get what you can get and go from there,” he said. “Start with the $20, do this and this, and lay the groundwork,” he said. “My fear is that if you keep waiting for the ideal day, the ideal day may never come.”
He added that Spokane County commissioners “are not stupid” and would never move forward with a $20 fee of its own without the support of its two largest municipalities.
“They’re not going to step off this precipice,” Shogan said.
In March, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and county Commissioner Todd Mielke led a discussion before the Spokane Regional Council of Governments, saying the formation of a TBD would be the best – and, in many ways, the only – way for local jurisdictions to create a taxing authority for much-needed road improvement projects. The reception at the time was lukewarm, as most in attendance are convinced their constituents would never approve any new taxes.
On Monday, Verner said she understood that position – however, the need is still there and greater than ever for a sustainable source of funding for regular road maintenance such as pothole patching and paving. Under a TBD program, 30 percent of the collected money would go to regional projects and the rest would be divvied up among the various participating jurisdictions.
“It behooves all of us countywide,” she said.
However, she did say a TBD was “not a panacea” since it would take a $45 fee approved by voters to get the $20 million needed annually for all the cities and county to get the work done they need.
Shogan said he doubted voters would even approve “a $21 fee,” so it makes sense to simply go forward with the $20 the councils can approve on their own.
“This is a time for us to control our destinies,” he said.
Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey said he is reluctant to ask the citizens for any tax hikes now and that imposing a $20 fee could poison the well for when money is needed later.
“It’s going to be a hard sell,” he said. “We’re in a catch-22.”