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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Verner says ‘plans in place’ to deal with 2011 deficit

Mayor Mary Verner makes her annual State of the City address on Feb. 12, 2010.  (Jonathan Brunt)
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said Friday her administration has “plans in place and work under way” to deal with another deficit facing the city. “As we go about our business in 2010, we’re going to provide all the programs and services you’ve come to expect from us, while we push ahead with creativity and innovation,” Verner said in her annual State of the City address. “We’re going to be developing new ways of doing business. We’re going to maintain our financial strength, and we’re going to bolster our local economy.” The 35-minute speech at the Spokane Convention Center was sponsored by Greater Spokane, the region’s Chamber of Commerce. Verner detailed many initiatives the city undertook last year to deal with a $7 million deficit, but there were few specifics Friday on how the mayor will handle the predicted $10 million hole in 2011. She pointed to her Six Sigma initiative, a corporate management program she brought to City Hall, which she said has improved service and resulted in major savings in cell phone bills and other costs. Verner endorsed improving partnerships with Spokane County and other entities to end duplications in government. She said the city is working with county officials to create “a comprehensive approach to criminal justice, to minimize jail costs and provide alternatives to incarceration while remaining tough on crime.” But while endorsing collaboration, she also touted the creation of the city’s Municipal Court. The city ended a court partnership with Spokane County at the start of last year. The city argued a separate court was needed as the result of a state Supreme Court ruling. The county responded that the city pulled out of the partnership prematurely. County Commissioner Mark Richard, who attended the speech, said despite his concerns about the court, Verner’s talk of collaboration wasn’t hollow. “The creation of the court system established by the city represents a step back, but we are making progress in a number of areas,” Richard said. “Five years ago, we were talking through our attorneys. Today we’re sitting down, working things out.” Among other work at City Hall, Verner noted the recent reopening of the downtown library on Mondays, the hiring of a police ombudsman, and the city’s new bike and pedestrian coordinator. She also praised several initiatives she said would aid the economy, including continued development of the University District and the International District along East Sprague Avenue. Verner also embraced efforts to increase taxes or fees to improve city streets through creation of a Transportation Benefit District, which would result in a tab tax, or a street utility fee, which would be included on monthly bills similar to sewage fees. The utility fee concept, an idea championed in recent years by former City Councilman Al French, would need the approval of the state Legislature. Bills dealing with state utility fees have been introduced in the Legislature, but neither chamber has voted on them. “The city is working with other local jurisdictions to develop regional transportation funding mechanisms for major capital projects,” Verner said, citing the benefit district and utility fee ideas. “We are going to be relentless on both fronts.”