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Spokane City Council approves millions of dollars in reserve funds for housing, street and downtown projects

UPDATED: Mon., July 23, 2018, 10:35 p.m.

FILE - Spokane City Hall. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Spokane City Hall. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council wrote checks Monday night in support of a $52 million public investment plan intended to pave streets, provide housing for low-income residents and prop up large-scale projects near Riverfront Park.

Some of those checks won’t be endorsed immediately. The list of funded projects is intended to fill the last two years of Mayor David Condon’s term, and are a result of collaboration between the mayor’s office and the Spokane City Council. The plan is a meeting of minds between city lawmakers and the administration, who have butted heads in the past on policy and personnel matters.

The panel voted 6 to 1 to approve the spending. City Council President Ben Stuckart credited Rick Romero, the city’s former utilities director, and stewardship of taxpayer money for building up the cash that was allocated Monday night.

“Then you can make these one-time investments without embedding these costs and breaking your budget five years down the road,” Stuckart said.

Romero, who has been working on the spending plan on behalf of Condon, said the council’s approval showed a collective focus between the two branches of government on projects that benefit the entire community.

“This is all about integration and focusing on dollars on preferred items,” Romero said.

The council approved transfers of about $30 million on Monday night, a majority of the funds set aside in the investment plan lawmakers approved as part of budget negotiations in December. Many of those payments now have a clearer purpose than they did last year.

Of the total, $5 million collected from real estate taxes will go toward the city’s expenses in building a prep sports complex just north of Riverfront Park. The city will kick in $1.5 million of streets money, both from reserves and for construction projects, to help build a roundabout at U.S. Highway 2 and Deer Heights Road to serve a planned urban development area on the West Plains, which will include a fulfillment center built by Amazon.

The money also includes $2.8 million in city funds and $5 million from the Department of Transportation for road repair projects in neighborhoods throughout Spokane.

The lone vote against the package came from City Councilwoman Kate Burke, who joined the panel after most of the talks about public investment had ended. Burke said she was concerned that the plan didn’t set aside enough money to support the people who most needed help in the community.

“Right now, we’re focused on economic development and bringing more people to Spokane, which has happened naturally,” Burke said. “I think if we take the revenue we’re generating from those entities that are strong, and put them in the most vulnerable people, we’re going to be much more successful in the future.”

An additional $2 million in real estate taxes is being earmarked for housing assistance, including what City Council President Ben Stuckart called “seed money” for a community land trust, which would be publicly owned land leased to home owners at an affordable rate for up to 99 years. There will also be money set aside to set up a risk pool for landlords to rent properties to tenants they wouldn’t otherwise, as well as relocation assistance for tenants priced out of their apartments, as occurred on the South Hill this summer.

“There’s a whole pocket of working people in our community, we have a housing shortage and prices are rising, so they get priced out of their housing,” Stuckart said.

Not all of the dollars are guaranteed yet. The city must close on the sale of its 5-acre maintenance property at 127 W. Mission Ave. to developer Chris Batten, a $2.7 million deal that Condon said last week he anticipated to close sometime in the next month.

Romero said the public investments, and planned public investments, the city is making have already shown dividends. He cited the recent purchase of the Red Lion Hotel at the Park by Walt Worthy, and Amazon’s announced plans on the West Plains, as evidence the city’s work was attracting the flow of private dollars.

“We’ve already seen a return on that investment,” Romero said.

Other planned projects that were approved Monday include money to move resources out of a 10-acre plot in Hillyard that has acted as storage for the Public Works department for decades, referred to as the Ranch property. Another $2 million was set aside in real estate taxes for completion of the so-called “South Gorge trail,” a system envisioned that would link downtown, People’s Park and the Kendall Yards development with the Sandifur bridge.


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