September 26, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 23

Admissions tax splits AH council

In a marathon study session Monday night, the Airway Heights City Council heard items that will come forward during October’s upcoming legislative sessions.

A number of non-action items were brought up for discussion, including the deferral of admissions tax payment from Village Centre Cinema. Representatives from the city and council met with the theater management in July to discuss the accumulated taxes owed, which total around $66,000.

“They indicated a hardship to pay existing and current taxes,” City Manager Albert Tripp said.

Tripp said the meeting also indicated growing financial distress within the company, as they were unable to pay the overdue taxes outright.

Mayor Patrick Rushing said the admissions tax, 5 cents on every $1, should have been placed on the ticket prices, which he argued wouldn’t affect the revenue taken in by the movie theater. Their inability to comply to the city’s tax setting, when annexed by Airway Heights last year, was troubling to him.

“It shows they’re not serious about conducting business,” he said.

Others on the council had a different viewpoint, wondering whether the admissions tax was having a positive or negative effect on potential business taking place in the city. Some hoped future discussion about even having an admissions tax would come up at a future council meeting.

“Is our admissions tax forcing businesses out of Airway Heights,” deputy mayor Kevin Richey asked.

Currently, there are only two businesses required to pay admissions tax: Spokane County Raceway and Village Centre Cinemas. Those at the meeting learned that neither company has paid their entire tax amount. The raceway park owes $184.90, which is split between Airway Heights and Spokane County.

The City Council also saw the first presentation relating to a potential new location for city hall and other city services, consolidating them into one location. Mackenzie, a design firm based in Seattle, showed six potential sites for a consolidated city government, highlighting one option.

The presentation noted the city’s police department building was outdated, had little parking for patrol cars and wasn’t equipped for a modern police facility. Similar comments were made for the fire department, in addition to calling it a cramped area, with several combined spaces.

Most of the added space would benefit the parks and recreation department, which has about 40 percent of the initial growth projection over the next 20 to 30 years.

The project proposal, which is only in its first steps, had an estimated total cost of just under $18 million, which didn’t factor in future building phases.

Some of the council was skeptical of the proposal, given there hasn’t been a chance for the public to comment yet, and that previous attempts to construct additions have failed in the city. Among the next steps includes gauging the public interest and working with landowners to purchase the property.

Another non-action item brought up for discussion was a decision to extend the emergency moratorium on medical cannabis storefronts. Development Services Director Derrick Braaten said the current moratorium expires Oct. 15, and the council needed to either extend it or drop it.

Braaten said after looking at it, the city of Spokane’s ordinance was worded similar to what Airway Heights could work with. His suggestion was to extend the moratorium, but lift it once the city had its own ordinance in place. Tentatively, that could happen as early as January.

Councilman Dave Malet said a meeting with the Cheney School District revealed that Airway Heights’ options in regards to having another school in the area were limited due to the number of students in the area. Continuing the discussion, councilman Doyle Inman said one of the real options, should student growth happen in Airway Heights, would be an expansion of Sunset Elementary or another elementary school.

“Once they get to 2,000 students, the state will let them look at another high school,” Inman said.

It was also noted that Airway Heights had its own school district before being absorbed by Cheney. Residents in the city have submitted comments to the school district about transportation times and the availability of programs for students living in the city.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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