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Sat., Aug. 4, 2012

Editorial: Budget plan presented well – and warts show

It’s not a graphic novel, but Mayor David Condon on Wednesday released a budget in a format much more accessible than the usual eye-glazing line-item format. On that count alone, his first spending blueprint is a success.

Those willing to open up the 630-page document – the link is at the top of Spokane’s website, – will find colorful pie graphs and charts for each department’s revenues and expenditures, full time-equivalent employees, a brief discussion of what each one does, and an executive summary of department activities.

Perhaps most interesting is a small graph for each department that overlays a five-year trend line of Spokane’s median household income with wages and expenses for city department FTEs, and total expenses. No two are alike. Many illustrate all too clearly how pay increases for city employees have far outpaced those for the taxpayers who write the checks.

That also suggests the challenges ahead for the mayor and City Council as they try to stick to a plan that does not increase the general fund budget from last year, and does not – for the first time in several years – boost city property taxes the 1 percent that Washington law allows. Holding the line at $164 million will require the elimination of 100 city positions; two-thirds already vacant, the other one-third still occupied by live, anxious individuals.

It will also mean a satisfactory resolution to negotiations with firefighter and police bargaining units. Satisfactory translates into contracts that narrow the gap between average household income and earnings per full-time fire/police employee.

The trend line graphs in the mayor’s budget show a 5 percent increase for average Spokane households over the last five years, but a 15 percent increase for public safety workers. Add the cost of new equipment, the total cost for maintaining some positions has climbed more than 20 percent. The trend for some other, smaller departments is worse still.

If you are looking for an explanation for a 14 percent increase in general fund expenditures since 2008, there it is.

The City Council and mayor’s office FTE compensation have been below the trend line, which will change if the council accepts Condon’s bid to take all the $169,000 per year for which he is eligible. He, like predecessor Mary Verner, had accepted $100,000 his first year in office, but compensation for the city’s chief executive should at least match that of his highest-paid employee. The timing is bad, but is never going to be good.

The mayor has done much to streamline operations in City Hall his first seven-plus months. His budget suggests he has plans for more. Finishing the plan will take a few months yet, and we recommend citizens take time to read as much of it as they can, even if just specific departments. There is a table of contents.

This may be as digestible as a budget gets.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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