It was time for Spokane Valley to take a victory lap.
Despite the economic turmoil of the past several years, the fledgling city has held steady without tax increases or public safety cutbacks. It’s launched street maintenance programs and bridge repairs with existing revenue. Parks have been expanded and new recreational trails are being developed on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.
“We have not only weathered but have triumphed over one of the worst recessions in our country’s history and are continuing on a path of economic prosperity,” Mayor Dean Grafos said Thursday in his first State of the City address.
Grafos, a businessman who once actively sought to disband the city before running for council instead, credits Spokane Valley’s quick rebound with fiscal restraint, a commitment to maintaining healthy reserves and staying focused on priorities.
The city has avoided taking the state-authorized 1 percent annual property tax increase for the past five years. “This alone has saved our citizens over $1 million, all this while other municipalities have faced cutbacks and declining revenues,” the mayor said.
Now a decade old and the state’s 10th-largest city, Spokane Valley is still growing.
Taxable retail sales jumped 7.5 percent last year. Nearly 1,700 new business licenses were issued. And the city, which contracts with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for police protection, is adding additional officers.
But big challenges remain.
Grafos said the expected increase in the number of coal and oil trains rolling through Eastern Washington has him and other city leaders concerned. He said the city has hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist to make sure Spokane Valley’s interests are represented as Congress discusses rail safety and transportation improvements, particularly funding for bridges to decrease the number of roads intersected by rail lines.
The city also is still trying to figure out where garbage will go in the fall. The county is taking over the regional system from the city of Spokane, and while the Valley is open to joining the system, it wants to comparison shop by giving private-sector operators a chance to make their pitch.
Contracting is a key part of Spokane Valley’s government operations, and Grafos says it’s why the municipal government remains so lean.
On Thursday, the Spokane Valley Mall was transformed into a makeshift City Hall where Grafos delivered his State of the City address. Council members and city employees demonstrated the Valley’s growing array of programs and services.
Police handed out complimentary gun locks. Volunteers gave away free bike helmets. City officials demonstrated the new Spokane Valley smartphone app developed in-house and available for free.
It was the kind of folksy event that tends to be a hit with residents but can elicit chuckles among the region’s political elite.
The Valley is unperplexed.
“Living within our means, prioritizing spending, operating efficiently and dedicating 6 percent of our general fund dollars to public works … has placed the city of Spokane Valley in an enviable position in Spokane County and possibly in the state when comparing the condition and safety of Valley streets,” Grafos said.
“We can never stand still,” he added later. “There is a fiercely competitive world right outside of our city limits.”