Council hears pitch for regional sports venue
The scenario was familiar - a representative from a community sports organization outlining the lofty potential of a multi-purpose facility that would have a profound long-term impact on the local economy.
Only this time, the pitch did not include visionary plans for the HUB Sports Center, Liberty Lake's once-embattled, now thriving mega-gym on East Cataldo Avenue.
The capital facilities blueprint serves as the centerpiece of a plan known as "Project Sports," championed by Sawyer and the SRSC as a way to upgrade local facilities and draw higher profile tournaments and events to the Spokane area. The first phase of the project included extensive interviews with what Sawyer described as "the local sports community," ultimately resulting in an inventory of sites ranging from the Spokane Arena to Plantes Ferry Park.
At Plantes Ferry, a sprawling greenspace to the west of Liberty Lake, the renovation of two soccer fields to artificial turf has already been approved by the Spokane County Commissioners, with plans to also include stadium lighting. Sawyer added that the long-term upgrade of the park would ideally involve transforming five softball diamonds into "tournament quality fields" with the addition of features like press boxes and more bleachers.
While refurbishing Plantes Ferry has been established as a priority of Project Sports, the cornerstone remains a yet-to-be-built venue that Sawyer described as a "major indoor sports complex and multi-use facility, not just a gym like the HUB." While a trio of sites have been identified for the project, Sawyer concentrated his discussion for the City Council on a tract of land off Mirabeau Parkway near the Spokane Valley YMCA.
"It's a great, centrally located site with a lot of potential," Sawyer said.
Design drawings by ALSC Architects feature a footprint of 127,600 square feet at cost of between $20 million to $25 million. The price does not include acquisition from the landowner, Centennial Properties. Sawyer said the completed project would emphasize flexibility and feature space for an indoor track, basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, table tennis and many other sports.
"It's kind of a lot of open space, and that's what we need," said Sawyer.
"What we need is an events center, not a gym," Sawyer said. "I've talked with (HUB Executive Director) Phil (Champlin) about this being a companion site to the HUB."
Sawyer said the prospects for adding onto the HUB were limited because "the site is landlocked and can't be expanded and still have the necessary parking."
Sawyer and his colleagues are now awaiting the findings of an economic and feasibility study involving the Mirabeau location that should be completed this month. Funding sources for the project have yet to be finalized.
"Everything we've been hearing has been positive," Sawyer said. "We feel confident that this would be a great success story."
City Administrator Katy Allen provided the governing board with an update on a sports venue closer to home on March 5, indicating that a topographic report on the future site of the Liberty Lake Ball Field is now complete and has been turned over to landscape architect Mike Terrell. Allen said Terrell will have design scenarios for the location ready by early April, after which time the field committee will meet to discuss plans for the site.
Pat Lutzenberger of the Liberty Lake Kiwanis Club made her pitch for another capital improvement at the meeting, noting that the city still lacks a viable community center.
"We really don't have a place that can hold over 100 people," Lutzenberger said.
"I think it would be a great public service to announce events," she said.
When it comes to Liberty Lake announcing municipal business in the form of legal ads, the Spokesman-Review will now be the official city newspaper. Council voted unanimously in favor of Resolution 13-166, despite a significantly lower bid by the Spokane Valley News Herald. Taking into account the News Herald's meager subscription base in Liberty Lake, council members concurred that the Spokesman's higher price was offset by broader circulation.
"I think we owe it to our citizens to have that information more available," said Council Member Cris Kaminskas.
Forecasting difficult when it comes to sales tax
Some of the backdrop for the discussions happened about three months ago, when Stevenson stood before representatives of the City Council and gave the abbreviated history of municipal revenue sources.
Hearkening back to 2007, when proceeds from sales tax reached a peak of $2.24 million, Stevenson advised the governing board that the city had not quite returned to the boom days that proceeded the nationwide recession. Projected income from sales tax for 2013 was pegged at $1.95 million.
"Sales tax can be an unstable revenue source," Stevenson said on Dec. 18. "We haven't quite fully recovered to where we were in 2007, even though there is some encouraging news out there. We need some other revenue source to pay for the capital needs of the city."
Later in the same meeting, council members unanimously approved the 2013 budget, opting to retain the 3 percent utility tax on electric, gas, cable, phone and waste management services. In his budget, Mayor Steve Peterson counseled that the funds should be earmarked specifically for road maintenance.
While the 3 percent toll on utilities has remained in effect for the first part of the year, there have been some rumblings from certain members of City Council that the tax should be removed, or at least restructured in a way to reduce the percentage paid on electric and gas, thereby lessening the burden on local businesses and on citizens' less discretionary services.
Meanwhile, the city has been working to gather cost estimates on a pavement management program that is the beneficiary of the utility tax. Spearheaded by City Engineer Andrew Staples, the report is expected to be finished by mid-April.
At the March 19 City Council meeting, Stevenson delivered the first of three presentations on revenue forecasting, beginning with a rundown of sales tax. Similar summaries on property tax and the utility tax will follow at council meetings in April.
In Liberty Lake, sales tax revenue represents 35 percent of the overall budget for 2013, with the funds being utilized for public safety, city parks, administration, general services and capital. In comparison, the utility tax comprises 13 percent of the budget.
While Liberty Lake residents join their Spokane County neighbors in paying 8.7 in sales tax on retail purchases, the highest toll is paid by those who reside in King County at 9.5 percent. On a $100 purchase, Stevenson broke down the destination of the additional $8.70, starting with the state of Washington at $6.50. The city of Liberty Lake is next, with $1 going into the general fund and 20 cents finding its way to public safety. The remaining dollar is split between Spokane County (40 cents) and the Spokane Transit Authority (60 cents).
Stevenson noted that the passage of streamlined sales tax legislation - in which the tax is collected at the destination point of the product, rather than the point of sale - explained the local drop in sales tax associated with manufacturing over the years. Washington state adopted the streamlined sales tax law in 2008.
In 2012, revenue from businesses specializing in sales of motor vehicles and parts in Liberty Lake constituted 64 percent of the overall sales tax income in the retail category, or $710,000. While Stevenson and his colleagues at City Hall are the first to applaud a thriving retail market, the finance director pointed out on Tuesday that sales tax revenue can often sway in the wind of a fickle economy.
"Unlike property tax, sales tax can be unpredictable," Stevenson said.
Also at the March 19 meeting, Peterson advised the community development committee to take up the discussion of electronic billboards after the topic was raised again during citizen comments.
The next meeting of the City Council is 7 p.m. April 9 at City Hall, 22710 E. Country Vista Drive, a week later than normal due to spring break scheduling conflicts.