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Bargaining support on agenda for Spokane City Council

With the possibility of new rounds of negotiations in which city leaders could ask for more wage and benefit concessions, the Spokane City Council may give its union employees a pat on the back.

The council on Monday will consider a nonbinding resolution stating that the city supports collective bargaining for its workers.

“There has been a lot of talk across the country about whether public employees deserve the right to collectively bargain and whether that right should be changed, and I wanted to make it clear that here in the city of Spokane that it’s not going to change and that we support their efforts to collectively bargain,” said Councilman Jon Snyder, who is sponsoring the resolution.

The proposal will be considered on the same night the council will vote on another nonbinding resolution stating the principles that the city will use when balancing the budget.

Last week, administrators estimated that the city will have to fix a $6.6 million gap between the money needed to maintain current staffing and service levels and the expected amount of tax and other revenues. The rainy-day fund will be nearly depleted, although officials say they have sufficient other reserves for emergencies and to maintain a quality bond rating.

Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said his group is willing “to sit down and talk, and we always have been.” He said the resolution is a nice gesture, but added: “Actions speak louder than words.”

Local 270, the city’s largest union, agreed to concessions in 2009 but did not meet Mayor Mary Verner’s concession request last year.

Verner noted that the city is in negotiations with city unions whose contracts expire at the end of the year, including with firefighters, police officers and managers. It’s too early to say if the city will request concessions from Local 270, she added. The city has lost about 80 positions since 2009.

“Once again we have a deficit – there is not surplus money – and so this year we’ll have to make another round of really difficult choices,” she said.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she will oppose the collective bargaining resolution and would support even stricter collective bargaining rules, such as those approved earlier this year in Wisconsin.

“Our cities aren’t financially sustainable under the current collective bargaining models,” McLaughlin said. “I honor and respect the majority of our hardworking employees, but to create a blanket statement saying I agree to everything within collective bargaining, I can’t say that.”

The budgeting principles likely to be approved by the council next week are similar to ones they’ve adopted headed into the last few years of projected shortfalls.

Among the rules in Monday’s proposal:

• Including the use of reserves, the city shouldn’t spend more than it takes in;

• Don’t pay for expenses that are expected to occur annually with revenue that can’t be depended on annually;

• Maintain “prudent reserves.”

Verner said Tuesday she plans to release two separate budget proposals for council consideration. One will be based on receiving support from voters for a property tax boost, called a levy lid lift. The other will be her proposed budget if the tax is rejected by the council or by voters.

“I do have concerns because we need new revenue to be able to provide the services that our citizens need and deserve. At the same time we’re hearing from our citizens that as a result of their own business and household budget challenges they don’t have an appetite for us to raise the taxes,” Verner said.