Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brenda Grassel cast the only vote against applying for a $125,000 grant from the Department of Ecology to help pay for the ongoing update of the city’s Shoreline Master Program.
In 2009 the city budgeted $150,000 in general fund money to pay for the state-mandated update, which must be completed by 2013. The plan, which will regulate development along the shores of the Spokane River, must be approved by the Department of Ecology before it can take effect.
During a previous council meeting, Grassel said she was wary of strings that might be attached to the grant. Planner Lori Barlow said she checked and the city would only have to promise to complete tasks on a certain schedule, but the city can set the schedule – as long as everything is done by 2013. “If we were to take the grant, their authority is not increased,” she said. “As I understand it, there are no strings as council perceives them attached to this grant.”
Other cities in Washington are doing the same update and most have received a grant to help pay for the process. “There are many success stories,” she said.
Grassel asked whether the city could apply for the grant again later if the decision was made to turn it down. Barlow said that option was a possibility, but there is no guarantee that any grant money would be available next year. “They may have money again, they don’t know,” she said. The grant money also can only be spent on upcoming expenses and cannot be used to reimburse the city for money that has already been spent.
Grassel also said she was concerned about getting a grant to pay to create a plan the council hasn’t seen yet. “We haven’t really reviewed anything,” she said.
Councilman Chuck Hafner noted that the grant money could be used to pay for staff time, which was not included in the original budget of $150,000 and is also coming out of the city’s general fund. “This could help us with some of our budget issues,” he said.
“We complain bitterly when the state provides a mandate,” said Councilman Bill Gothmann. The grant is simply a way to have the state pay for a plan the state is requiring. “It seems to me that this is the right thing to do, to accept this grant.”
Councilman Dean Grafos noted that if the city gets the grant it can also complete a public access plan and a critical areas regulation analysis, which also were not included in the city’s original $150,000 budget. Grafos said he believes having those two components are important. “I would be in favor of it,” he said.
Councilman Arne Woodard initially said he was “leery” about accepting the money, but said he was convinced otherwise by the arguments presented. “I agree with Mr. Gothmann and Mr. Grafos, and that’s a scary thought,” he said.
In other business, the council also unanimously approved buying the Paladin Smart Gov permit tracking system software. The city currently contracts with Spokane County to use software the county created several years ago called Plus. The county has notified the city that it is eliminating the Plus software and is negotiating with Paladin to purchase the Smart Gov software.
The Smart Gov software would be the cheapest option at $146,000 to install and annual maintenance costs of $19,300, said building official Mary Kate McGee. The city does not have the option of doing nothing since Spokane County will no longer maintain the old software, which will eventually die of neglect, she said.
The new software will also improve citizen access by allowing searches, has a better report-writing capability, and will allow the consolidation of several databases. McGee said she visited Douglas County, which has used the Smart Gov software for several years. “Douglas County was extremely pleased,” she said. “They’ve had five or six years experience with this vendor. They had nothing but positive things to say.”
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