Wednesday, December 7, 2016

County Budget Shift Not Anticipated to Affect Roads Department

In the 2017 budget passed by Spokane County Commissioners on Monday, the roads department will get a $7 million budget increase next year. Commissioners also shifted $5 million in taxing authority from the “road fund banked capacity” to the county’s general fund, which includes spending on courts, the sheriff’s office and the jail.

This has some people worried about the impact to area roads and, according to the Spokesman-Review, Commissioner Al French he’s received numerous phone calls from residents concerned about how their property taxes will be spent. Officials say no money will be taken from the road fund. Instead, the money going into the general fund will come from tax increases.

The confusion comes from the terms used. "Road fund money" and "road fund tax capacity” are apparently two different things. Washington counties are allowed to raise property taxes 1 percent each year. If they don’t use the full 1 percent, they can “bank,” or accumulate, the remaining percentage and levy it later. Spokane County didn’t take a 1-percent property tax increase for the road fund for years. That “banked capacity,” or left-over authority to tax, is being transferred to the general fund and will amount to $5 million in revenue next year.

That money could be collected for the road fund, but county officials feel there’s more need for it in the general fund. So if they didn't use the banking option, that money never would have gone into the road fund anyway.

French said some of the new general fund money will be spent on capital improvements, and some will be used to create a “water bank,” in which property owners buy and sell water rights. The water bank is an effort to ease building permit restrictions under the state Supreme Court’s controversial Hirst decision.

The remaining banked capacity money will be used to raise the leftover balance of the general fund in order to keep the County's bond rating up.

Only residents in unincorporated parts of the county pay property taxes for the road fund, but all county residents will contribute to the $5 million being transferred into the general fund, Wrigley said.

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About SRTC

SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

SRTC offers services including transportation monitoring, transportation modeling, census information analysis, travel demand forecasting, historical traffic count analysis, geographic information systems, and trip generation rates.