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Council backs mayor on new grants, financial assistance department

The Spokane City Council approved plans by Mayor David Condon to create a new department of grants management and financial assistance.

The council approved the department in a 6-1 vote Monday with Councilman Jon Snyder voting no.

Snyder said he has consistently opposed an ongoing effort by Condon’s administration to create new departments within existing services to establish more positions that are exempt from Civil Service rules.

The city has already created more than 20 new departments this year, he said.

The new departments include groups of Civil Service-exempt department heads in police, fire and parks.

The new grants department stems from a move by the administration to hire Jennifer Stapleton, former grants administrator for Spokane County, away from the county.

She was hired as a temporary project employee but is slated to take the new directorship for grants at a $90,000 annual salary.

The council needs to approve a budget for the department before she can take over.

Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer, said the ability to obtain and administer grants has shown weakness in recent years.

The state auditor found several instances of noncompliance with conditions on grants, Cooley said.

Stapleton has begun resolving those problems, he said.

And she is getting the city ready to do energy efficiency studies to reduce the use of electricity and other power, which should save the city money on energy costs in future years. Stapleton helped put together a successful energy program for Spokane County.

Cooley also said Spokane is going to start teaming up with other agencies, especially Spokane County, to compete for grants to fund regional projects.

Cooley said the department may have a second employee if the council approves the position. The annual budget would be about $250,000.

Council President Ben Stuckart said, “I am really excited to see this happen.”

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said, “We did steal a great person from the county.”

In other business on Monday, the council approved using $350,000 in transportation benefit district funds to pay for installation of sidewalk ramps in construction projects, but only in 2014.

Starting next year, accessibility ramps are being required by the federal government but without any money to pay for them.

The transportation benefit district derives funding from a $20 license tab surcharge on vehicles registered in the city. That money is going mainly to residential street and sidewalk projects.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref objected to using the money for ramps since that would take funds away from the residential projects.