October 31, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 28

Spokane County dropped the ball with Prop 1

In our opinion

Has Spokane County earned a “yes” vote on Proposition 1?

The ballot item would raise $18 million over nine years through property tax increases county-wide to remove seven mobile home parks in Fairchild Air Force Base’s Accident Potential Zone Two, an area that has heightened potential for aircraft crashes. There are 188 units in the area, 119 of which are privately owned, with 69 owned by the park’s owners.

Fairchild is the region’s top employer and one of the most important assets to our community. It’s invaluable, irreplaceable and any encroachment issue facing the base needs to be dealt with swift and efficient action in order to protect its presence.

Over the last couple of weeks, Spokane County Commissioner Al French spoke to West Plains city councils, asking for input on the proposition and listening to questions that have local legislative bodies concerned. Medical Lake, in particular, held strong reservations about the absence of sales tax return cities would see from the proposition’s passage.

They viewed it as county residents subsidizing economic development in Airway Heights. French and the board of county commissioners view it as buying insurance to prop up an economic stalwart in our community.

It’s also worth mentioning that Fairchild’s estimated impact has continued to rise over the last two years. First, job numbers at the base were around 5,000, only to jump to 6,000 last year. Fairchild’s estimated annual economic impact was roughly $500 million just a couple of years ago. In the county’s ballot item, however, it suddenly jumped by another $800 million to a $1.3 billion annual economic impact.

The county and Greater Spokane Incorporated have offered no explanation for the sudden jump in Fairchild’s economic impact.

Scare tactics aside, the loss of Fairchild to a round of Base Realignment and Closure would be devastating to the Spokane region. Factoring in Fairchild’s value to the community, a $100,000 property paying $6.31 for nine years versus a projected levy increase of $99.58 if the base closes, that’s a pretty strong argument for Proposition 1’s passage.

While the idea of BRAC closing any air base is frightening, remember that Fairchild has a number of factors in its favor. It’s one of two survival schools in the country due to its proximity to extreme natural elements like desert, snow and forests; a reconstructed runway was rebuilt in 2011 and new construction in the form of the base’s headquarters and recreation center have taken place all in the last two years. But, the Air Force has a master plan for its facilities that is unknown to the public.

If presented properly, and with the right amount of importance placed on it, Proposition 1 would be deserving of citizens’ votes. If this ballot item is truly meant to protect residents of the county from a possible closure of Fairchild, the county commissioners should have been asking for input months ago. Instead, waiting until the last minute to speak to cities is not only procrastinating, it shows a lack of respect toward cities that might not see a dime of their investment returned.

Proposition 1 could easily gain massive support if the county reached out to cities months in advance, around April, to gather their input and include that in the measure’s language. If this item comes back in the future with a more regional approach, taking input from all parts of the county, it would earn our support. As for now, Proposition 1 looks like a backroom discussion between Airway Heights, Spokane County and GSI.

For that reason, our initial stance to support it has since turned the other way.

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