February 13, 2009 in City

Verner: Progress will be made despite tough times

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner applauds her office staff during her State of the City address Feb. 13, 2009, at the Spokane Masonic Center in Spokane, Wash.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane, like the nation, faces hard economic times ahead, but that won’t stop city leaders from making progress on key issues, Mayor Mary Verner said Friday in her State of the City address.

“Tough times take bold action,” Verner said at the end of her 40-minute speech. “I’m ready to take bold, deliberate steps, and I ask you to take them with me.”

Verner began her talk noting the “tough road ahead” and a forecasted budget shortfall in 2010 that could reach $3 million. But she stressed that the city is in better position than other cities because it has significant reserves. Verner highlighted changes made at City Hall to save money and noted the recent decision to train 16 employees in Lean Six Sigma, a business efficiency program. The City Council recently approved a $76,000 no-bid contract to pay for the training.

“I’m relying on city employees to help us work more efficiently,” she said.

Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley said Six Sigma is among several efforts, including a new citizens’ advisory committee examining city finances, aimed at balancing the budget in 2010 without layoffs or increasing taxes to fund the current level of service.

He said recent months have shown Spokane’s economy slipping less than the rest of the state. January sales tax distributions, based on purchases in November, fell by 4 percent in Spokane compared to a year earlier. That’s the smallest decline experienced by any of the state’s seven largest cities.

To help cut costs, the mayor said the city is considering a change to a four-day work week. She also has directed cuts in the use of city-issued cell phones and city-owned take-home vehicles.

Verner made the speech during a breakfast gathering of Greater Spokane Inc. at the Spokane Masonic Center downtown.The mayor noted improvements in the past year, such as the repaving of Maple and Ash streets, and pointed to efforts under way to attract “green jobs,” address climate change and homelessness and assist neighborhood business districts.

Verner also used the speech to promote the city’s proposed $18.5 million property tax plan to pay for a new police evidence building, municipal court office, animal shelter addition and the reconstruction of the city’s police shooting range.

Ballots that include the city’s tax question will be mailed next week.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.

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