December 11, 2012 in City

Divided Spokane council approves budget

Spokane spending plan will eliminate 92 jobs
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane’s city government is shedding 92 jobs.

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 4-3 to freeze the city general fund budget, largely accepting the recommendations of Mayor David Condon.

Condon proposed a $161 million general fund, which pays for police, fire, parks, libraries and other services paid with taxes.

The mayor’s budget eliminates the arts, and weights and measures departments. It will fund the equivalent of 2,033 full-time jobs. It removes 19 police officer positions that were vacant. It cuts the on-duty firefighting force from 61 to 58 and removes the first-response firefighting capabilities of Fire Station 9 on the South Hill.

The council split was predictable. Republican-leaning council members voted for the budget. Democratic-leaning ones opposed it. The same 4-3 split rejected Council President Ben Stuckart’s plans to shift money to pay for public safety positions or items that the city’s Use of Force Commission is expected to recommend to improve police services. They also rejected for the second time in less than a month a 1 percent increase in property taxes.

Councilman Steve Salvatori said he supported the budget because it is based on “reasonable assumptions.” Unlike many of the last few budgets, it does not rely on reserve funds.

“It has no tricks. It has no gimmicks,” Salvatori said. “It’s not crossing assumption junction.”

But Councilman Jon Snyder said it cuts too much from public safety when options were available to save at least some positions.

“I don’t think it accurately reflects what the citizens want in the city of Spokane,” Snyder said.

Snyder and others also criticized raises totaling $85,000 given to five administrators, four of whom already make more than $100,000, when others are losing their jobs and most union workers agreed to wage freezes.

Condon said that some council members were playing politics with the raises. He noted that a majority of those getting raises are taking on significantly more duties because of eliminated management positions. He said seven management positions were eliminated by his budget.

“It never feels good when someone’s getting a raise and you’re out of a job, but the reality is the public is paying the same for their services this year,” Condon said.

About 50 members of the Spokane Alliance, a group of union members and churches, attended the meeting. Many testified in support of avoiding cuts.

Despite a series of 4-3 votes there were a few agreements.

The council voted unanimously to spend $10,000 on seed money to build a new community center in Peaceful Valley; $200,000 to hold a special election in February; and $45,000 on economic development efforts in three business districts.

They rejected, however, on a 4-3 vote Snyder’s proposal to spend $15,000 on a state program at the downtown library to provide help for job seekers. Councilman Mike Fagan said the city’s library system has veered from its “core function” of checking out materials and providing Internet access. He criticized the library for providing story time, genealogy programs and showing movies.

“This is one of the reasons why government in my mind has gotten out of control,” he said.


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