Spokane County has been ordered to issue refunds to about 5,000 Spokane residents who paid higher taxes because of a street levy approved by city voters last fall.

The Spokesman-Review reports that County Assessor Vicki Horton and Treasurer Rob Chase said they’re deciding whether to issue the refunds or appeal the ruling. The levy came with the stipulation that approving it wouldn’t raise taxes for low-income, senior citizen and veteran residents. It passed with 77 percent of the vote. Soon after, the county said an existing senior citizen tax exemption didn’t apply, so Spokane’s City Council passed an ordinance to revive the tax exemption in order to keep the campaign promise. The county refused to comply with the city’s law, saying cities don’t have the power to exempt taxes. The city responded by suing Spokane County and earlier this month a judge ruled in the city’s favor.

County officials said they were following direction from the Washington Department of Revenue indicating the exemption did not apply. Horton and Chase tried to add the Department of Revenue to the lawsuit but Judge Harold Clarke III denied the motion.

Spokane county’s chief executive officer, Marshall Farnell, says there may be pressure from other Washington State counties for Spokane County to appeal the decision, as the outcome could have implications on the taxing authority of other governments.

County commissioners moved yesterday not to get involved in the dispute, saying it was up to Chase and Horton and their legal counsel to sort out the court’s directives.

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