CIVICS: We also have a property tax increase, redistricting decisions and county zoning changes.
This week we have County Commission sneakery and public comment avoidance, and a lot more. It’s a long one, so grab a coffee and get ready to hear what it’s going to take to have a say in the decisions our local elected officials are making.
Spokane County Board of Commissioners
Emergency at Camp Hope?: An item that set off alarm bells for us reads, “Sheriff Knezovich (10:50 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.) Proclamation of Emergency Request.” That meeting notice can be found in the commissioners’ Monday Strategic Planning meeting agenda, which is generally sparse on details and often doesn’t have an agenda packet.
Following the county commissioner rabbit hole, which can be about as dizzying and nonsensical as Alice and Wonderland, we head over to the Regular Session agenda for Tuesday. There you’ll see, at the bottom of the Consent Agenda: “In the matter of declaring an Emergency Proclamation / Resolution as provided for in Chapter 38.52 RCW and RCW 36.180 respectively related to the property commonly referred to as Camp Hope and other matters related thereto.”
Take a deep breath, and stretch. OK, ready? Let’s unpack what this means.
The full emergency proclamation in the agenda packet for the regular session (starting on page 147) cites the upcoming winter months and threat of a dangerous fire spreading through the camp among the reasons to call for an emergency.
According to letters in the packet, Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer requested activation of the County Emergency Coordination Center after an Oct. 18 agency stakeholder meeting. The priorities he lists for the attempt are: offering shelter space and services to those in Camp Hope, making a plan to store their personal belongings safely, providing “safety and security” to the people giving the services to Camp Hope residents and work crews that clear the camp, and cleaning up the property.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich in his letter to the commissioners cites the upcoming winter, lack of infrastructure like running water and sewers, and safety for the surrounding community as reasons for the emergency.
It’s unclear, in either officials’ letters and the emergency proclamation, where exactly the county will provide shelter to the approximately 400+ unhoused people left at Camp Hope. The county simply doesn’t have enough shelter space for all the unhoused people in it, even with the recently opened Trent Shelter.
What the emergency proclamation does, however, is give the county and sheriff authority to enter contracts and rack up costs “without regard to time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by law (excepting mandatory constitutional requirements),” like public hearings, competitive bidding and publishing notices.
These actions align with the looming deadline Knezovich set to clear the encampment (currently sitting at November 10) and the county commissioners’ approval to authorize the county prosecutor to sue the state over Camp Hope.
Got something to say? (Too bad): There’s a slim time frame for public comment on this item — so slim it feels deliberate. The strategic planning and working meetings are boardroom-style meetings, meaning that the public can only make comments if the commission is taking a final vote at that meeting. They are not taking a vote on the emergency order at this meeting, so the public cannot comment on it. The final vote is in the consent agenda of the regular session.
We really need to do an explainer on nerdy board stuff like this because it is extremely esoteric, but for our purposes today: consent agendas are usually big sets of decisions — approving the month’s payroll and other planned expenses, for example — where board members just vote for or against everything at once. At the County Commission, the public is not allowed to make oral comments on consent agendas.
So, by putting the emergency declaration in the consent agenda, the County Commissioners are effectively prohibiting public comment, except in one narrow window.
The only way to comment on a consent agenda item is to make a written comment by noon the day before. So, crack your knuckles and prepare to be left out of discussions on the future of this community once again.
In order to comment on the county declaring Camp Hope an emergency, you have to email the board clerk before Monday at noon.
In related news: Right before that emergency item in the regular session, there will be discussion of approving a Homeless Outreach, Stabilization and Transition (HOST) Program. The goal of the program is to support unhoused people who are also experiencing behavioral health challenges and other disabling conditions.The county put out a request for proposals from providers in July.
Strategic Planning Meeting: Monday, Oct. 24 at 9 a.m. (virtual here)
Regular Session: Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 2 p.m. (virtual here)
Public Works Building, 1026 West Broadway Ave.
Spokane County Planning Commission
Capital Plans and zoning changes: The agenda for this monthly meeting is severely lacking in detail (shocking, we know). The items that may be of interest — two public hearings — don’t have any supporting documents attached to them, but Google came to the rescue: The first public hearing will be on the Capital Facilities Plan, which is the county’s plan for building public infrastructure for the next 15 or so years. Read more background and see the draft plans here. The second public hearing is on Comprehensive Plan Amendments, which include changes to zoning designations for specific properties. For example, there’s currently an application to turn about 100 acres of “Light Industrial” land into “Mixed Use” land in an area off I-90 near the airport. That is the largest proposal on the docket right now, but you can see all the proposals here.
Thursday, Oct. 27 at 9 a.m.
1026 W Broadway, Spokane, WA
Commissioner’s Hearing Room, Lower Level
Property tax increase: You’ve probably heard some buzz about this item after Councilman Michael Cathcart, who is running for county commissioner, spoke out against it. The item on the city council agenda related to this is a public hearing on possible revenue sources for the 2023 budget. Council President Breean Beggs tells us it’s a legal requirement every year for the council to have a hearing to basically say “yes, we’re going to collect the taxes and levies voters previously passed.”
Additionally, it’s likely the council will pass a 1% property tax increase this year. In last week’s Finance and Administration meeting, city staff said the council has passed the increase every year for the past dozen or so years. The 1% increase only applies to the small portion of property taxes the city charges. This amount generally equates to a few dollars per property per year.
For the last decade, the money collected from the increase generates about $500,000 and has been used to go into the police budget to pay for police vehicles. Assuming the vehicles cost roughly the same per unit as the last time council approved a vehicle purchase earlier this year, that $500k should be enough to buy about 7 new patrol vehicles.
The city council will have a final vote on this item on Nov. 7.
Redistricting map: An item on the agenda that will likely be a hot-button one is the first reading to adopt a City Council Redistricting Plan. The redistricting committee, which is advisory, is recommending Map #1, which has minimal changes and puts all of downtown into a single district, rather than splitting it up. Map #2 has been more popular among neighborhood councils because it doesn’t divide neighborhoods. A prevailing narrative is that the second map will make District 3 more liberal because it moves Browne’s Addition into it.
This is the first reading of the ordinance, the final reading and vote will happen at a later meeting.
Nuclear option: An item that jumped out at us and may jump out at you is “Establishing the City of Spokane as a zone free of nuclear armaments; enacting a new chapter 18.09 of the Spokane Municipal Code.” Don’t worry, Spokane isn’t at risk of becoming a nuclear war zone.
The resolution comes at the request of Veterans for Peace, which asked the council years ago to make sure Spokane wasn’t contributing to the creation of nuclear weapons, which the council did. The group came back recently and had a demonstration asking the council to pass a law that has more teeth to it.
The new law would add an investment policy that steers the city away from investing into companies that do nuclear weapon work and signing contracts with companies that produce nuclear weapons. Council President Beggs, who sponsored the item, said the goal is to “keep the city from contributing to the military industrial complex.” The biggest concern about this item is with Spokane’s investment board, which generally focuses on maximizing profits with investments, not moral or ethical concerns, Beggs said.
The proposed law does include a clause that says the city won’t get in the way of national defense.
Full agenda here.
Monday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m.
Council Chambers in the Lower Level of City Hall.
808 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane, WA 99201
The meeting is also livestreamed here.
*NOTE: The Oct. 31 City Council meeting is canceled.
The movies are free and the beer & food support a worker-owned, social purpose brewery. Check them out here or go straight to the upcoming events on their facebook page.
RANGE wants to be sustainable on membership, but we’re open to other revenue streams, like sponsorship & promotion. To test that out, we’re promoting the other businesses within Spokane Workers Coop. Supporting those businesses supports the whole cooperative RANGE is a part of, and supports the movement to spread worker-ownership across Spokane and beyond. As always, feel free to send us feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Infrastructure, Environment, and Sustainability Committee
Regional communication station: There’s a few items in this committee meeting related to Spokane Regional Emergency Communication center, so we’re going to group them together.
First up is an ordinance change saying Spokane may contract with Spokane Regional Emergency Communication (SREC) for emergency dispatch services and allow non-city employees to be dispatchers for the Spokane emergency workers. Right now, there’s a 2019 ordinance that disallows that. The ordinance will then be considered at the City Council meeting later on Monday.
Next is a Special Budget Ordinance from the Spokane Police Department requesting immediate funding to hire eight dispatchers. The department says these are needed to fill in the gap left by the merger with SREC.
Then, the committee will talk about an agreement with the firefighter and dispatcher union, Local 29, and another Special Budget Ordinance. According to the agenda item, about half the fire dispatchers for the city will return to fire service in the department with the Oct. 31 expiration of the governor’s emergency COVID proclamation. This staffing loss means that there won’t be enough dispatchers for the city and fire dispatch services will need to move to the SREC center sooner than the original Jan. 31 2023 date. The early transition means the city needs to pay for severance for the non-uniform dispatchers through the end of the year and for transitional costs.
Later on in the meeting is a discussion for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the city of Spokane to contract with the SREC for its fire dispatch. The current city fire dispatch is set to stop on Oct. 31 and the new contract will cost about $151,000 per month.
Monday, Oct. 24 at 1:15 p.m.
Council Chambers in the Lower Level of City Hall.
808 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane, WA 99201
The meeting is also live streamed.
Spokane Regional Health District Board
Budget, baby: The health board has two resolutions relating to their 2023 budget. The first is requesting $2 million in unrestricted funds from the county to provide public health services to help fund its 2023 budget. The second is actually adopting their 2023 budget of $58.5 million.
Thursday, Oct. 27 at 12:30 p.m.
Auditorium, First Floor
Spokane Regional Health District
1101 West College Avenue
Spokane School District Board of Directors
Updates and firearm safety: This civics newsletter is already wildly long, so we’re going to rapid-fire the main items.
- An update presentation on elementary literacy including student growth, professional development and exploring new elementary curriculum.
- An overview and update of the district’s Native Education Program. It will include a review of services and resources that are provided to students and the planning process used to outline improvement strategies.
- A resolution to “inform district families and communities of the importance of secure firearm storage.”
Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.
Boardroom, SPS Administration Building
200 N. Bernard