October 8, 2013 in City

Spokane Mayor Condon’s budget focuses on public safety, street repairs

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane Mayor David Condon’s 2014 budget would hire 25 new police officers, restore fire service at Station 9 on the South Hill and put $2.5 million more into street maintenance.

The fire station at 1722 S. Bernard St. would be returned to full fire protection capability with the filling of four new firefighter positions.

Condon told City Council members in the annual “statement of condition and affairs” of the city that “we are on solid footing and in position to meet future needs.”

He said his administration is “committed to living within our means.”

Next year’s budget proposal calls for a 2 percent property tax increase, which is allowed under state law without voter approval.

That money would be used to purchase new police vehicles and other capital needs, said Gavin Cooley, chief financial officer.

Typically, cities are capped at 1 percent annual increases, but because Spokane didn’t take the permitted increase for 2013, it is eligible to take 2 percent next year.

The City Council will hold budget workshops and provide an opportunity for public testimony later this fall.

The budget of nearly $600 million includes $161 million for general tax services such as public safety, parks, libraries and streets.

The size of the general fund is not expected to increase substantially from 2013.

The new police officers would be paid for in part by paying off a group of street improvement bonds with money from a reserve account and redirecting what would have been spent on bond payments to police hiring.

It takes nearly two years to hire and train officers to the point where they can work on their own.

Adding the 25 officers would boost the commissioned force to 300 officers.

The budget calls for an $800,000 reduction in police administrative spending. It also anticipates saving $400,000 on jail costs.

Criminal justice reform proposals under consideration this fall are aimed at reducing jail sentences by giving offenders options to turn their lives around.

Utility bills could rise at the rate of inflation, or about 2.9 percent. Condon said his administration wants to keep utility cost increases reasonable.

The mayor said in a news release earlier Monday that budget decisions were driven in part by community input at public meetings and block parties and other conversations.

Public safety, street improvements and cleaning up the Spokane River are priorities for 2014, he said.

Condon said the city has sharpened its approach to street and utility projects by using three-dimensional planning that includes below-ground utility lines.

The mayor said he is also asking the City Council to set new policy regarding pension reform, capital projects, fire department spending and use of the city’s reserve funds.

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