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County commissioners need to be straightforward about Proposition 1, round two

Write to the Point


The semi-annual Spokane Regional Council of Governments meeting, known as COG (to everything there is an acronym) proved entertaining and informative last Friday. Particularly when it came to Fairchild Air Force Base and the surrounding environs.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French’s presentation “Protecting Fairchild AFB — Helping Families,” revisited Proposition 1, a ballot measure imposing a levy on county residents the proceeds of which would be used to purchase seven mobile home parks in the city of Airway Heights.

The homes, and their occupants, are a danger in that they are located in Fairchild’s Accident Potential Zone II. Part of the danger is that if an Air Force jet should go down on landing approach through the zone, there’s a potential for catastrophe should the plane hit among the trailers.

It’s a very real threat, and has been for sometime. It’s interesting to note those trailer parks, and another housing development called Solar World, are a small portion of APZ II. Most of it is vacant ground, populated here and there by a business or two and the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The other danger those trailers represent is larger, financial. French and other officials in the county and cities believe if those trailer parks totaling 188 units are not removed, they may give the federal government a reason to downsize, and even close, Fairchild when the next round of Base Realignment Commission proceedings take place.

Hence Proposition 1, which if passed, would have increased the property tax levy 6.5 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation over nine years, providing $18.1 million to purchase and demolish the homes, most of which are too old to move, and relocate residents to better housing being provided by a coalition of charities including Catholic Charities, Community Frameworks and Habitat for Humanity.

The latter is a noble, worthy venture. The former would have raised property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home around $6.31 annually — $56.79 total — which is a far better deal than the potential loss of $1.3 billion in economic impact — it started as about a $500 million impact — Fairchild is estimated to bring to the region.

And that would just be for starters.

Proposition 1 failed by a 51.18 to 48.82 percent margin. News reports at the time attributed this to voters in areas far from Fairchild, not understanding why they should pay to have the trailers in someone else’s jurisdiction removed.

French noted there was a large undervote on the measure, which he attributes to voters not understanding the issue. Undervotes, as described earlier in the meeting by county auditor Vicki Dalton, occurwhen say 100,000 ballots are issued and only 75,000 return with all circles marked, an undervote of 25,000.

Proposition 1 supporters feel the undervote on their issue was large enough to have carried the measure had all those voters marked “Approved.” Next time around — and there will be a next time — they plan to make a better, more timely effort to educate voters.

What I found entertaining was French’s smooth transition from talking essentially about a tax, sure it’s referred to as a levy but it’s a tax, to his claim that he and the other commissioners are anti-tax, and back again to talking about convincing county voters to approve a tax on themselves. Seamless.

I don’t mean to pick on the commissioner, he’s not the only elected official to claim they’re anti-tax and then turn around and lobby for a tax. We like taxes when they are beneficial to us, and hate them when they aren’t, even though they may benefit someone else, who of course hates our preferred tax(es).

The same goes for (circle one: federal/state) government involvement. We want the (circle one: federal/state) government around when they show up with a checkbook to fund a needed project. We wish the (circle one: federal/state) government would go away when we find out there are strings attached.

French and his fellow commissioners, past and present, have done a good job in removing encroachment obstacles around Fairchild without going to the taxpayers for help. In lobbying for Proposition 1 again, they shouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of voters.

And, they should tell us what they intend to do if the trailers are removed, and Fairchild still falls to the BRAC process.

John McCallum can be reached at


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