The “Boot” wasn’t just kicked to the curb, it was knocked clear into the closest parking lot.
On Tuesday, the Spokane Valley City Council voted 6-1 – Arne Woodard was the minority vote – to revoke the current permit process that allows for the “Fill the Boot” Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser and similar events to make use of volunteers collecting funds at stopped lights or curbs at busy intersections. Instead, the event organizers will have to use the safer option – albeit one that is likely to generate less money – of directing traffic into parking lots to make donations.
Fill the Boot has been a summertime event in which trained firefighters man street corners and straddle medians during busy travel times to entice motorists to stuff dollar bills in their rubber footwear. While a successful fundraiser, city officials say there have been complaints each year since Spokane Valley incorporated in 2003. Some dangerous scenarios have also developed when those collecting funds have been unable to get back to the sidewalk after a light changed from red to green.
While the firefighters have traditionally been the best equipped to deal with the accompanying traffic hazards, Cary Driskell, Spokane Valley city attorney, said even they aren’t perfect.
“They come the closest (to doing it right),” Driskell said. “But even they have been caught in traffic when the light changes. Even when done to a T, we still have concerns.”
MDA proponents – who had been so vocal when the issue of disallowing the current fundraising practice had first come up in 2008 – have been surprisingly silent this time around, with no one speaking for their behalf Tuesday or at the first reading of the ordinance on March 27.
However, Rick Delanty, who’s served on the board for the Spokane Guilds School and Neuromuscular Center, said taking volunteers out of intersections and into parking lots will “make it impossible” to collect the same amount of money it usually does during its annual penny drive, which is set for April 28.
“In this day and age, when charitable organizations are facing all kinds of cuts, we ask you to put this on hold for a period of time,” Delanty told the council. “We’re very concerned about traffic safety. We’ve never had any problems.”
Delanty said the organizations fundraising efforts are generally over $100,000 each year, with the penny drive being a significant component of the Guilds’ efforts. In 2008, the penny drive alone brought in $62,000 throughout the area. In Spokane Valley, the Guilds’ volunteers man four busy intersections, which typically bring in about $3,000 each, Delanty said.
Council Member Chuck Hafner said the safety of the city’s citizens has to come first, however.’
“Law enforcement says we’re waiting for an accident,” he said.
Mayor Tom Towey agreed.
“We have to treat everybody the same,” Towey said. “I’ve got to go with safety.”
Woodard wondered if there was any way a compromise could be reached.
“I sincerely feel for the Guilds School,” he said. “I know the good work they do.”
Council Member Dean Grafos said there was also a liability issue to think about.
“Is this a good use of our limited police resources?” he asked. “I don’t think it is.”
In other news, city Parks Director Mike Stone outlined possible components of the proposed expansion of Balfour Park on Sprague Avenue, which could also see the relocation of the Spokane Valley Library. Elements could include picnic shelters, a splash pad, farmers market, veterans memorial, skate park and more.
If the partnership moves forward, the city would purchase, via the city’s Capital Projects Fund, the entire eight-acre site from Pring Corp. The library would locate on the westernmost piece of the property to pay for its portion should it see voter approval in a bond election that would occur no earlier than 2015.
Should the bond vote fail, the city would have the option of developing the entire site as a park.
Mayor Tom Towey said he has concerns about such a large park being so close to five-lane, 35 mph, one-way-west Sprague Avenue.
“Do we have any consideration for a fence or some type of buffer zone?” he asked.
Stone said berms and other landscaping would separate the main park area – including soccer fields and other play structures – from the busy street.
“We can assure you that the No. 1 priority is to keep young people safe,” Stone said.
Council Member Ben Wick wondered if the land couldn’t also accommodate a future city hall, but Stone was doubtful.
City staff plans to bring the council a draft memorandum of understanding between the city and the library district for the possible land purchase and for traffic study costs at next Tuesday’s council meeting.