Spin Control

Use of Force and Snowmageddon: A tale of Spokane's savings account

Snowmageddon 2008 and Spokane's Use of Force Commission don't have much in common.

One was the harshest winter in a generation that paralyzed Spokane, and the other aims to reform the Spokane Police Department. 

But both are tied together by one of the city's savings accounts.

Earlier this month, we wrote about Mayor David Condon's 2014 budget proposal, in which he proposed adding 25 new officers to the force by paying off an old street bond with funds primarily from the contigency reserve. At that time, we said the fund was "intended to be saved for emergencies, such as 'Snowmageddon' in 2008, Ice Storm '96 and the eruption of Mount St. Helens."

Which is true. That's the intent of the fund. But at last week's Finance Committee meeting, city Finance Director Gavin Cooley detailed how the fund has been used in the last ten years. Only one of the five times it's been dipped into could be described as an emergency, as most people would define it. (Of course, city leaders could make a case for the other four.)

In 2003, they dipped into the fund for a $1 million withdrawal, which went towards paying for early retirements for some of the city's workers. 

In 2008, $500,000 was taken out for the apocalyptic Snowmageddon, which dumped 100 inches of snow on us, snarling traffic, shutting the city down and cursing the lives of every person to lift a snow shovel that dreaded winter. 

In 2009, another $400,000 was taken out for more early retirements.

In 2011, the city used $336,000 to purchase JustWare, a fancy new computer program used to integrate our region's criminal justice system.

And earlier this year, $1.112 million of contingency reserve funding was used to implement some recommendations from the Use of Force Commission, which we wrote about today.

So, obviously, the fund isn't used simply to combat the excesses of Mother Nature. She just isn't that punishing in the Inland Northwest. And that's why the city is reviewing how it uses this fund. 

But for the time being, the city is using it for one time purposes, which go toward budget reduction, police accountability or snow plows. We can all agree on that last one.

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Nicholas Deshais
Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall.

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