Such gloomy news on such a beautiful day.
But nobody should be surprised that the city of Spokane’s budget requires more surgery. It’s best to get the news out now, so citizens have time to debate it. And that’s what Spokane Mayor Mary Verner did Wednesday in announcing the proposed elimination of 44 positions and other austerity measures. The final budget isn’t required to be sent to the City Council until Nov. 1, but here’s what the mayor’s self-described “pretty dismal” document would mean in part:
Public safety takes a hit, with the loss of 18.5 positions. The Neighborhood Resource Officer program is greatly reduced. The Fire Department loses nine positions, which could trigger rolling station closures and delayed inspections. Pothole maintenance could be diminished, because one of two crews will be laid off. Libraries won’t be as accessible. Municipal Court loses three vacant clerk positions and a public defender. The city reduces its subsidy to the promising Spokane County Mental Health Court.
In addition, the pay of senior leaders would be frozen, vehicle and computer replacement would be slowed, and the motor pool will have five fewer vehicles.
Those cuts would get worse if some of the mayor’s assumed savings don’t pan out. Verner hopes the county will help speed up annexation on the West Plains, which would net an estimated $2.5 million, and that some employee bargaining units agree to compensation concessions.
All of this belt-tightening stems from an estimated $9.8 million budget shortfall for 2011. The cuts would come on top of last year’s $7 million shortfall, when budget officials predicted that more reductions would be in store if the economy didn’t pick up dramatically.
Well, it hasn’t, so the city is predicting a tiny increase in sales tax collections and isn’t banking on much new construction. The weather hasn’t cooperated either, with a mild winter cutting into utility tax revenue.
It’s smart not to include tax increases in the budget, but the service cuts should not be taken lightly. Some will roll back progress made in neighborhood policing and on domestic violence and mental health issues. Library patrons will obviously feel the impact.
But because the mayor has released her plan so soon, citizens have a chance to voice their priorities.
It was a good idea to release the news now, even on a beautiful day.