(The Center Square) – Two ballot measures loom large for Spokane voters in the upcoming Nov. 7 general election.
Measure #1 calls for a two-tenths of 1 percent increase in the countywide sales tax — or 2 cents more for every $10 purchase — starting next April and continuing for 30 years. There is an exemption on sales and rentals of motor vehicles. If passed, the measure would raise approximately $1.7 billion over time for criminal justice, public safety and behavioral health purposes. Spokane County voters will see Measure 1 on their ballots, which will be mailed later this week.
Another initiative, Proposal #1, seeks to ban homeless encampments near schools, parks, playgrounds and daycares within Spokane city limits. Only Spokane voters within the city limits will decide this proposal.
Measure 1 and Proposal 1 require simple majority votes (50% plus one vote) to pass.
Last December, Spokane County commissioners passed a resolution calling for a public vote on Measure 1, citing a rapidly growing population, increased crime and aging correctional facilities.
If approved, the county would receive 60 percent of the annual revenue generated by the sales tax hike, while the remaining 40 percent would be shared proportionally with cities and towns based on their populations. Of these 13 communities, most out-of-county allocations would go to the City of Spokane (23.8%) and the City of Spokane Valley (11%).
Among other uses, the revenue could be used to purchase more police officers, equipment and training, as well as increased collaboration with other first responders on behavioral health calls.
With his partThe county says it also wants to modernize and expand its downtown Spokane jail — which officials say is nearly 40 years old and currently overcrowded by an average of 110 inmates — in part to absorb the jail population due to the impending closure from Geiger Correctional Center, originally. built in 1953 as a military barracks.
According to county information, the downtown expansion would include a facility housing up to 768 minimum- to medium-security inmates by 2028 and a minimum-security “community corrections/law and justice center” that could house up to 128 detainees. The center would also contain more courtrooms and provide services such as drug and alcohol treatment, mental health counseling, family services, GED preparation, job skills and more. The overall cost was estimated at around $300 million.
Measure 1 has sparked much debate. Spokane County commissioners themselves are divided. In a symbolic vote earlier this month, Republican Commissioners Al French, Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney approved the measure. The commission’s two Democrats, Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan, remained opposed after trying earlier this year to remove it from the ballot.
A divided Spokane City Council also recently opposed the measure in a symbolic 5-2 vote. Among the critics, the majority said it lacked details on how the money would be spent, calling it a “blank check” for the county. Two city councilors supporting the measure said improvements to correctional facilities are now badly needed, and they disputed assertions that the majority of jailed inmates are innocent or low-level offenders who should not be incarcerated.
Equally controversial, Proposition 1 was spearheaded by Spokane attorney Brian Hansen and City Councilman Jonathan Bingle. In a statement to the local voter’s guidethe proposal is described as “a step in the right direction to help reduce the dangerous, dirty and disruptive behavior inherent in homeless encampments around the areas where our children learn, play and grow.”
If passed, the proposal would amend Spokane municipal code to prohibit unauthorized encampments – including the storage of personal property or paraphernalia – within 1,000 feet of any public or private school, public park, playing field play or approved daycare. The measure would expand the current municipal code that prohibits camping within 50 feet of any railroad overpass with the downtown Spokane police station and within three blocks of any congregate shelter.
Supporters of the proposal say homeless encampments create problems with illegal drug sales and use, including discarded hypodermic needles, indecent assaults, various violent crimes and large volumes of trash, while costing taxpayers resources for policing and cleanup efforts.
Opponents say the proposal is “alarmist” and unfairly targets disadvantaged and homeless people who are not criminals and are not breaking any laws.
Terri Anderson, Spokane director of the advocacy group Tenants Union of Washington, said opposition statement narrowly missed the deadline for inclusion in the local voter’s guide. The document questions the constitutionality of the proposal, saying it could face a costly legal challenge if passed and result in “(tying) the hands of the entire city and region.”
Banning camping in almost all public spaces will put vulnerable people at risk of police searches and incarceration, create more barriers to escaping homelessness, and push affected populations “into neighborhoods that lack the capacity to help them,” the statement said. “The unintended consequence…means the encampments…will look more like Camp Hope because of the limited space they are allowed in.” »