Council to discuss future of utility tax, 6.4 acres at retreat
By Craig Howard
The merits of a utility tax in Liberty Lake have been a topic of discussion during every city budget discussion since 2010.
It appears 2013 will be no exception.
The much-debated revenue source was brought up several times at Tuesday's City Council meeting as the governing board looks ahead to the first public hearing on next year's budget, scheduled for July 16. The 3 percent levy on phone, cable, gas, electric and garbage bills will also be the topic of a council workshop – led by Council Member Lori Olander – at the same meeting.
Olander has raised concerns about the utility tax at various points throughout the year, noting that it was never intended to be a permanent fixture in the municipal budget when it was approved by council in October 2010 to address a projected $700,000 deficit. Other representatives of the current council, including Josh Beckett and Cris Kaminskas, have also recommended re-evaluating the tax.
An examination of the utility tax will also headline the council retreat, set for Aug. 11. The agenda will be rounded out by a list of topics that includes the Liberty Lake Ball Fields, an aquatic center and the city-owned 6.4 acres off Meadowwood Lane near the site of the Liberty Lake Farmers Market.
An update on a controversial sign on the Farmers Market grounds was part of a short agenda at Tuesday's meeting. The sign – originally placed by Mayor Steve Peterson and later removed by Beckett – reflected the city's plans for the land going back to a failed bond vote in 2008 that proposed spending $9.8 million to build a library and community center. Peterson eventually restored the sign in time for the Farmers Market on June 1 but faced heavy criticism from Council members at the June 5 meeting for misrepresenting the city's intentions regarding the site.
The city has discussed a "phase one" project for the 6.4 acres that would include landscaping improvements and expansion of a parking lot currently utilized at the Spokane Transit Authority transfer station. The city is still awaiting word on an application for a state grant to help with funding for phase one.
On Tuesday, Council Member Shane Brickner, who was appointed on June 5 to represent the Council in a reworking of the sign's message, told of attending the most recent Farmers Market and fielding questions from residents on the city's plans for the land. Brickner and Peterson represented the city in a booth at the market. The current sign features a revised theme with an emphasis on the first phase of the project.
"There was a lot of conversation and a lot of feedback," Brickner said. "I would encourage other council members to spend time in the booth and encourage citizens to continue to discuss with us what they'd like to see on that land."
Around 70 recommendation cards have been filled out by residents, Brickner noted, with ideas for development ranging from building an aquatic center to a retail area to green space with simple amenities.
In his report on the public safety committee, Beckett said the Spokane Valley Fire Department has brought up the possibility of constructing a station on an acre portion of the 6.4 acres and would be sending a representative to the council retreat to provide more input.
In other city news:
• Olander said the finance committee had been discussing the details of an interlocal agreement between the city and Spokane County that could result in backpayment to the city through the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer protection plan. She said Liberty Lake could be eligible for up to $40,000 per year going back to 2006.
• Also from the finance committee, Olander noted that $500,000 from the Harvard Road mitigation fund would be going toward the Harvard Road roundabout project scheduled for construction this summer. She added that there was support to include the money in the existing TIF/LIFT fund in order to qualify for state matching dollars.
• Peterson offered a reminder about an open house/job fair being held by Vivint on Thursday (June 20) from 4 to 8 p.m. at the former Safeco Insurance building that will now house a branch of the home security company. Vivint announced earlier this month that it would be opening up a new office in Liberty Lake that would eventually provide 400 jobs. Referring to a story that appeared last week in The Spokesman-Review, Beckett raised concerns about consumer complaints that have been filed against the company regarding overly aggressive and misleading sales tactics, most involving door-to-door sales. Echoing comments made by Robin Toth of Greater Spokane Inc. in the article, Peterson said he had talked to representatives from Vivint about the complaints – which do not involve any criminal allegations – and emerged confident that "they've addressed those issues and the follow-up has been excellent."
• City Administrator Katy Allen said the city would be applying for funding help through the state Transportation Improvement Board to help with an upgrade of Appleway Road. Welch Comer Engineers is working with the city to meet the Aug. 23 grant deadline which would cover 80 percent of the project, if approved.
• Allen added that the city is also looking at acquiring grant dollars for a project that would add additional access off Knox Avenue near Appleway. The city is collaborating with GSI on the application with a deadline of Aug. 1. In a related discussion, Beckett described how traffic between 4:45 to 5:15 p.m. on weekdays "is becoming a real challenge" on Appleway. He recommended that the city work with employers in the area to institute staggered work schedules that would relieve some of the congestion.
• Allen said the city was compiling a packet for City Council candidates in the upcoming election that would include a rundown of municipal material, including the city charter, council priorities, the budget and organizational chart. The packet will also be available to current council representatives.
• The July 2 council meeting has been cancelled due to a light agenda and proximity to the July 4 holiday. Council will convene again at City Hall at 7 p.m. July 16.