In a special meeting, the date of which changed twice, the City Council voted 4-1 to raise property taxes, continue using the Spokane County Sheriff as their law enforcement, and to further restrict the sale and use of fireworks in Deer Park.
Raised Property Taxes
After decades of keeping Deer Park’s portion of the property taxes frozen on a “don’t need, don’t take” policy, the council approved the property tax and raised the city’s portion from 2017’s levy rate. The estimated change per $100,000 assessment would be about $7.18. According to City Attorney Chuck Zimmerman, most municipalities take the yearly 1% raise as a regular option.
Law Enforcement Contract Approved
The tax increase is primarily due to increased prices from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, and will be used to finance a lower level of law enforcement coverage. “You’re going to get less and pay more – which is an awful feeling – but it’s the honest truth,” said Zimmerman about the new contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office originally demanded an increase to over $1,000,000, but a negotiating team including Mayor Tim Verzal, council members Dee Cragum and Joe Polowski, and city officials spent months working to create a more affordable solution. The new contract starting in 2020 will cost $660,000, and will increase by 3% every year after that.
If Deer Park chose to allow its contract with the Spokane County Sheriff to lapse, the only other realistic option would be to create a city police force. Several audience members spoke in favor of such a move, declaring that an increase in safety would result. Other audience members stated their opinion that such a force would be far more costly and would decrease the professionalism and wide-range of services being part of a larger system currently provides. Mike Rider, a city councilman when the last Deer Park Police Department was dissolved in favor of using the Sheriff’s office, spoke against creating a local force by sharing a unique perspective: “When someone wasn’t suing the police department a policeman was suing the city.”
Fireworks Restricted Further
The last major decision the council made in its special meeting was to restrict the sale of fireworks to July 3rd and 4th, from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The lighting of fireworks was also reduced to exclusively the 4th of July from noon to midnight. A small addition in allowed usage made fireworks legal to use on December 31st from 5:00 PM to 12:30 AM on January 1st. This ordinance won’t affect 2019’s Independence Day celebration but will allow for the use, but not the sale, of fireworks on December 31st, 2019.
The council came close to a complete ban of the sale and use of fireworks in its discussions over the last four months. Commitment to the complete ban waned among council members as a clear majority of the concerned citizens wanting no changes to the current fireworks ordinance showed up at council meetings. However, the council was not completely moved by this strong showing of opinion and voted the restrictions listed above into law. Councilman Schut issued a public statement via Facebook where he summarized his disagreement with the new restrictions: “The problem was not the law and will not be the law in the future.”
Moving The Meeting
Councilman Schut protested the procedure of the meeting throughout on behalf of those who had planned to attend the meeting before the time was changed twice. The Council voted against Schut to use procedural tactics and waive the third reading so that ordinances like the unpopular fireworks restrictions could be passed more quickly. Schut released a statement on Facebook that read in part, “the three reading process for ordinances prevents creating new laws without providing time to consider the public’s valuable input. When making important decisions it is extremely important to resist the urge to take the simple and quick route. In total, the three reading process was waived 3 times in this one meeting.”
Councilman Schut’s complete statement is available at DPGazette.com/schutnov19