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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Showing Street Smarts Candidates Scurrying To Find Funds To Patch Up The City’s Infrastructure

Voters hear the refrain from candidates every campaign season: a pledge to search out wasteful spending like a cop on a criminal’s trail.

Spokane residents are getting an earful on the topic in this year’s City Council races, with the twist that any money saved should go to street repairs.

Mayoral candidate John Talbott lauds his plans for an independent auditor as the solution to nearly all the city’s spending woes. Council candidate Steve Thompson proposes zero-based budgeting, where departments justify every budget item in detail every year.

While other candidates propose less dramatic changes, several swear there must be extra cash somewhere in the city’s annual spending plan. But no one is proposing specific budget cuts.

Incumbents Jack Geraghty and Phyllis Holmes are the only two candidates wary of promising to trim a budget they consider plenty tight.

“I’m opposed to the notion where you just divide, divide, divide, cut, cut, cut,” Holmes said. “Pretty soon, you begin to cut into things that people say are vital.”

Both Holmes and Geraghty have been burned by past campaign spending promises.

Four years ago, Holmes vowed to take on a pension system she called too generous. A few small changes have been made but not nearly what she hoped, she said. “Things take a long time.”

During his first mayoral campaign, Geraghty pledged to cut spending across the board by 3 percent if elected.

“That was before I really got on the scene,” Geraghty said. “Any time you talk about across-the-board cuts, … it isn’t necessarily fair.”

Spokane’s street problems had already surfaced as the hot topic when candidates launched their campaigns last summer. Then the City Council borrowed $2.8 million to fix some of the worst streets.

After several months of construction on major streets, some drivers may have grown more concerned about detours than potholes.

“People are kind of sick of them being all torn up,” said Cherie Rodgers.

Judith Gilmore said she still hears from people who want to know how she plans to get - and keep - the roads in good repair.

City officials say the money doesn’t exist right now. Federal dollars they relied on to pay for resurfacing have vanished. State gas tax revenues are shrinking.

All the candidates are eying the state Legislature for at least some relief.

“Lobbying the Legislature needs to be more productive,” Barbara Lampert said.

“We need council members to use their bully pulpits to tell local legislators to start working for us,” Thompson said.

Geraghty said the street solution may lie in combining money from a proposed local gas tax increase with hoped-for new dollars from the state.

Candidates are split over the proposed 2.3-cent gas tax increase that also goes to voters countywide next week. The city would receive an estimated $1.8 million more a year if it passes.

Even without help from a gas tax hike or Olympia, most candidates are convinced there must be extra money for streets somewhere in the city budget.

“We can always find money” for consultants and studies, Rodgers said. “Some money can be squeezed from the budget.”

“You need to get more money from within the budget,” Rob Higgins said.

City Manager Bill Pupo said he’s looked, and he can’t find the extra dollars. About 60 percent of the general government budget goes to personnel.

Parks get a guaranteed 8 percent of the general fund. Public safety eats up 50 percent. Transportation takes 10 percent. Libraries get 6 percent - and a new branch opens next year.

Lampert said the city should consider cutting an entire layer of middle management. “Remove that layer and all the costs associated with that layer,” she said.

“It’s not as simple as … let’s go in and cut five middle-managers,” Pupo said. “If you’re going to go in and cut, you cut services.”

Talbott wants the council to hire an independent auditor to scour the budget for waste and study cost-cutting measures.

“An independent auditor would allow me to say to the people that … the city is running as efficiently as it possibly can and we’re putting all the savings in a pot toward the number one priority,” Talbott said.

The city is audited by the state every year, so an internal auditor isn’t necessary, said Geraghty, adding the proposal would create another layer of bureaucracy.

Candidates calling for change during the election will have to keep the pressure on once they’re in office.

A council member needs to convince at least three colleagues of the need to cut spending or change the budget process.

If Talbott’s proposals are resisted, he said that as mayor he’d try to convince the public to put pressure on other council members.

, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. PAYING FOR STREETS Here’s what candidates for mayor and City Council say about how the city should pay for street maintenance: Jack Geraghty, mayoral candidate: Supports proposed 2.3-cent-per-gallon county gas tax increase because it’s a user fee. City needs to lobby state legislators for more road money. City also needs to establish street improvement reserve fund and begin setting aside more general fund dollars. John Talbott, mayoral candidate: “Tell the city manager to fix them, and then he’d better find the money.” Intense scrutiny of budget would uncover dollars for streets. Cherie Rodgers, council position 1: Favors gas tax proposal because it’s a user fee. Also thinks officials should lobby more aggressively for dollars from Legislature. Some additional money likely could be found in general fund. Barbara Lampert, position 1: Favors more aggressive lobbying of the state Legislature. She supports the gas tax proposal. Judith Gilmore, position 2: The city must lobby legislators vigorously for more street dollars. She’d like to scour the general fund to find more money for street maintenance and repair. Rob Higgins, position 2: Supports proposed gas tax increase. City needs to squeeze more money from general fund, but that alone won’t do it. City officials need to work closely with legislators - and the STA - to get more street dollars. Phyllis Holmes, position 3: Supports gas tax increase and would like commissioners to add $15 motor vehicle license fee to annual registration fee. She’d also like to see more general fund dollars spent on streets. Steve Thompson, position 3: Wants to increase spending on street maintenance. “I think we can find $2 to $3 million in a $112 million-a-year budget. We need to reallocate dollars toward the streets.”

2. UPCOMING This is the last of three stories about issues in the Tuesday city election. Other articles included: Monday: The proposed Lincoln Street bridge. Tuesday: Downtown redevelopment. From Thursday through Saturday, the newspaper will preview the three City Council races.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. PAYING FOR STREETS Here’s what candidates for mayor and City Council say about how the city should pay for street maintenance: Jack Geraghty, mayoral candidate: Supports proposed 2.3-cent-per-gallon county gas tax increase because it’s a user fee. City needs to lobby state legislators for more road money. City also needs to establish street improvement reserve fund and begin setting aside more general fund dollars. John Talbott, mayoral candidate: “Tell the city manager to fix them, and then he’d better find the money.” Intense scrutiny of budget would uncover dollars for streets. Cherie Rodgers, council position 1: Favors gas tax proposal because it’s a user fee. Also thinks officials should lobby more aggressively for dollars from Legislature. Some additional money likely could be found in general fund. Barbara Lampert, position 1: Favors more aggressive lobbying of the state Legislature. She supports the gas tax proposal. Judith Gilmore, position 2: The city must lobby legislators vigorously for more street dollars. She’d like to scour the general fund to find more money for street maintenance and repair. Rob Higgins, position 2: Supports proposed gas tax increase. City needs to squeeze more money from general fund, but that alone won’t do it. City officials need to work closely with legislators - and the STA - to get more street dollars. Phyllis Holmes, position 3: Supports gas tax increase and would like commissioners to add $15 motor vehicle license fee to annual registration fee. She’d also like to see more general fund dollars spent on streets. Steve Thompson, position 3: Wants to increase spending on street maintenance. “I think we can find $2 to $3 million in a $112 million-a-year budget. We need to reallocate dollars toward the streets.”

2. UPCOMING This is the last of three stories about issues in the Tuesday city election. Other articles included: Monday: The proposed Lincoln Street bridge. Tuesday: Downtown redevelopment. From Thursday through Saturday, the newspaper will preview the three City Council races.

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