A second police precinct, a steady stream of newly trained officers and a race to the deadline for a cleaner Spokane River dominates Mayor David Condon’s 2015 budget proposal, which he released Tuesday.
By holding a news conference in front of a Hillyard building at Market Street and Diamond Avenue – long used by the police department for storage but destined to become home to the city’s second precinct – Condon made clear what he considered the highlight of his budget plan: investments to public safety.
The building, which was bought by police in 2005 for $410,000 using seizure funds, “puts the northeast at the leading edge of how the Spokane Police Department is driving down crime and making Spokane safer,” Condon said.
City Council President Ben Stuckart, who with his fellow council members will have the final say on next year’s budget, was reserving judgment on Condon’s proposal.
“Budget development is a process,” he said. “I am positive that we will be able to meet the community’s priorities when we adopt the final budget in November.”
The $585 million budget proposal is in many ways a continuation of this year’s budget, which beefed up the police force and unveiled the administration’s effort to integrate infrastructure projects – at once building new streets and diverting pollutants from entering the river.
Unlike the across-the-board cuts in Condon’s 2013 budget, which slashed 93 positions from the city’s payroll, the 2015 proposal cuts no positions to balance the budget, said Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer.
Instead, the almost 40 positions being eliminated in the budget come from a deal struck this year with the county to take over the city’s solid waste transfer duties. Half of those workers found other jobs with the city, Cooley said. The others can apply with the county.
“It’s about efficiency and effectiveness, not about closing a gap,” he said.
The budget proposal includes $450,000 for a “police hire ahead” program.
Last year’s budget spent about $2.5 million to hire enough officers to reach police Chief Frank Straub’s target of a police force with 300 commissioned officers. The “hire ahead” program will train cadets ahead of outgoing officers, keeping the number of uniformed officers steady.
“It’s really to keep the pipeline full,” said Tim Dunivant, the city’s budget director.
It adds up to greater investments in public safety, especially considering last week’s decision to take the annual 1 percent property tax increase allowable by state law without voter approval and dedicate it to buying new vehicles and equipment for the fire and police departments.
Last year, the city launched its innovative, and less expensive, way to meet the federally mandated effort to stop almost all pollutants from entering the Spokane River by 2018. This year it’s more of the same – a lot more. Spending aimed at stopping the flow of raw sewage into the Spokane River during rain or snowmelt will double in 2015 compared with this year. Then it will double again in 2016.
The mayor proposes spending $20 million more for capital expenditures in 2015 compared with this year, the vast majority of it headed to the utility department for the integrated project. The $163 million dedicated to capital projects in the proposal is part of the mayor’s projected six-year plan, which in all could spend almost $850 million. Almost half of that six-year figure – $411 million – will be spent on wastewater management. The streets department comes next, with $139 million.
The utility department remains the city’s largest, with 588 full-time employees and a proposed $281 million budget, almost 40 percent of the city’s entire budget.