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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City funding tight for Valley nonprofits

Rebecca Strantz and Mike Cowart use the clothing bank at the Spokane Valley Community Center Wednesday as they shop for baby clothes and other items. In next year's budget, the Spokane Valley City Council gave the center $7,000. The center had requested more than $14,000 in funding from the city.
 (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Rebecca Strantz and Mike Cowart use the clothing bank at the Spokane Valley Community Center Wednesday as they shop for baby clothes and other items. In next year's budget, the Spokane Valley City Council gave the center $7,000. The center had requested more than $14,000 in funding from the city. (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Valley City Council sent a lukewarm message to the city’s top provider of social services: Funding is increasing, but not by much.

On Tuesday, the council allocated $120,000 among four nonprofits and two economic development groups – but only $39,000 went for social services.

Project Access, which provides health care and medication for the poor, asked for $35,000 and received $30,000.

Spokane Valley Community Center, the city’s largest and most comprehensive social service agency, received just $7,000. It requested $14,823.

Although funding was up from this year’s $4,000, SVCC Director Mollie Dalpae said once again the council favored economic development groups.

But funding wasn’t exactly flush for the Spokane Area Economic Development Council and the International Trade Alliance either. The organizations that try to attract jobs to the region received a total of $81,000 – less than the requested $125,000.

Still, Dalpae said the community center’s markedly lower allotment ignores its role in improving the work force and making the area more attractive to employers.

The center offers GED classes, job fairs and training, resume help, dress clothes and even bus tokens and gas vouchers for people needing transportation to work.

“We are as integral to the health and economic development of this city as anyone. If we were to go away, who would take our place?” Dalpae said.

As the 2-year-old city get its financial bearings, spending on programs that address poverty and other social challenges lag behind many other cities.

City officials say they’re reluctant to increase spending until the budget stabilizes. Advocates for the poor think the council lacks commitment.

Although the majority of money for social services is provided through state and federal funds, cities can choose to allocate additional money from local taxes.

Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite, a small-business owner, said the council is concerned that increasing funding could lead to higher taxes. Raising taxes during today’s tough economy could harm local businesses, she said.

Wilhite said the council is trying to identify and reflect taxpayers’ wishes. The city built CenterPlace, a Mirabeau Point community center with a senior center and classrooms, and is creating a parks plan.

“I guess we’re just beginning a dialogue on what kind of things our citizens want us to provide,” Wilhite said.

But Dalpae said about 40 percent of Spokane Valley’s citizens may be teetering on the brink financially.

Based on the 2000 census, Eastern Washington University researchers determined that 43 percent of the households in Spokane Valley live on less than $35,000 a year. Nearly 30 percent survive on less than $25,000 a year.

Between January and June this year, the community center provided emergency assistance to 25,000 people, Dalpae said. Ninety-five percent of them were city residents.

Sheila Gall, municipal government analyst for the Association of Washington Cities, said cities fund social programs differently.

State auditor’s reports indicate that Washington cities spend an average of 2 percent of their budgets on social and human services, although those figures may include state and federal funds, Gall said.

Cities add varying amounts of local tax dollars to support things not covered by the federal money, Gall said, or to address homelessness or other prioritized needs.

When it comes to spending local tax dollars – not including any federal contributions – Spokane Valley takes a different approach than a similar city across the state.

Like Spokane Valley, Federal Way, Wash., between Tacoma and Seattle, has about 85,000 residents and similar poverty rates.

Spokane Valley’s general tax fund for next year is $30 million, and the city has earmarked $39,000 – about one-tenth of 1 percent – for social and human services.

Federal Way’s general fund for 2006 is $40 million and has allotted $400,000 for human and social services – or about 1 percent of the city’s general fund.

While Federal Way is 13 years older than Spokane Valley, city officials there say the commitment to social services has been apparent from the beginning.

Derek Matheson, assistant city manager for Federal Way, said the city formed a human services task force when it incorporated in 1990. The following year, the city stepped up with $200,000 for area agencies dealing with homelessness and other challenges.

Savings from other departments were added to the fund, and in the late 1990s, the government increased the budget to $400,000 annually.

Spokane County administers federal community development funds for 11 cities and towns, including Spokane Valley, and the county’s unincorporated areas. That money bolsters poor neighborhoods through infrastructure improvements, economic development and public service projects.

The bulk of Spokane Valley’s federal money subsidizes sewer connections that cut down on the number of septic tanks over the aquifer and improve roads and other infrastructure.

Some of Spokane Valley’s federal money is going to Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels, and some to Spokane Valley Community Center. Preliminary recommendations show the community center may get $18,000 and Meals on Wheels $20,000.

A collective pool of money was distributed to Second Harvest Inland Northwest and other agencies.

Tim Crowley, manager of Spokane County’s housing and community development department, said Spokane Valley officials prioritized several areas for spending.

“Their primary concerns are infrastructure and roads. There’s a lot of stuff they’re looking at repairing now. They’re also really sensitive about human services and affordable housing,” Crowley said.

Spokane Valley may eventually become an entitlement city, enabling it to manage its own federal block grant money, like its neighbor, Spokane. For the past few years, Spokane allotted 1 percent of its general tax fund, or about $1 million, for programs serving the elderly, poor, children and people with disabilities.

Last year, the department wrote grants that leveraged city taxes and contributions from area agencies to get $3 million in state and federal grants, said June Shapiro, human services manager.

Money was designated to help city residents and distributed among three dozen nonprofits, including Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs.

Because of revenue shortfalls in Spokane, Shapiro’s department may lose $400,000 in local funds next year.

Spokane Valley’s mayor doesn’t know where the future of social service spending lies. While the city’s financial prospects are brighter than originally forecast, Wilhite said the council is hesitant to provide a level of funding it can’t maintain.

“We want to be sure we’re on solid financial ground so we can provide services our citizens need on a continual basis.”

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