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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane mayor’s budget cuts 100 positions

Spokane Mayor David Condon on Wednesday rolled out a preliminary city budget for 2013 that cuts 100 positions, including police and fire jobs, but allows him to take a full salary of $169,000.

Of the proposed job cuts, 65 of the positions are currently vacant, including 19 in the police department. The fire department would lose nine vacant firefighter positions.

No layoffs are proposed for either department, but as many as 35 employees from other City Hall departments could get the ax.

As for the mayor’s salary, the City Charter and his proposed budget call for paying him the same amount as the highest-paid city employee, which currently is Fire Chief Bobby Williams at $169,000 a year.

The 2012 budget was adopted before Condon took office at the start of the year and called for paying the mayor $100,000. Condon said at the time he would accept the budgeted amount during his first year in office, but he made no further pledge regarding his pay.

Overall, the proposed budget would hold general fund spending to $164 million in 2013, the same as 2012.

The bulk of the layoffs and eliminated positions would be on the general fund side. The proposal would avoid any increase in property or utility taxes.

On the utility side, customers can expect a 3.5 percent increase in rates for sewer, water and garbage service, but that amount is being kept down by other cost cuts.

Condon called the proposal a “no-growth” general fund budget consistent with his pledge to hold down costs.

“This is a flat budget,” Condon said at a news conference.

He noted that city spending has grown much faster than Spokane’s average household income since 2009.

The proposal addresses a projected $10 million shortfall as the cost of delivering services continues to outpace increases in revenue.

Sales tax collections are projected to be static or to grow by an anemic 0.5 percent in 2013, while property tax collections would increase only about $90,000.

Some of the proposed savings are through a substantial reorganization.

No specific program cuts were determined yet, although the mayor said he’s looking at the arts department, weights and measures and the East Central Community Center.

Seven management and administrative positions have already been eliminated, including two deputy division directors.

Business and developer services would lose 21 positions under the proposal.

Weights and measures enforcement could be transferred to the state, which handles that service for other communities, Condon said in a letter to the City Council.

The Arts Department could be remade into a new nonprofit operation.

The same approach could be used for the East Central Community Center, but that would leave its 12 city employees having to re-apply for their jobs.

Council President Ben Stuckart said he has major concerns about a proposal that eliminates 5 percent of the authorized workforce of about 2,000 in 2012.

“I can’t see how you can cut those positions and say you are not affecting services to citizens,” Stuckart said.

He said he is particularly worried about the effect on police and fire.

Stuckart said Condon has enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon as the new mayor, but that may be coming to an end.

Contracts with the main police and firefighter unions are under negotiation, and the costs of any wage increases are not included in the budget, Stuckart said.

In February, the council on a 4-3 vote rejected a proposed fire contract calling for a 2.38 percent wage and benefit increase. Stuckart supported the proposal negotiated under former Mayor Mary Verner.

Now, the city is facing the prospect of binding arbitration that could cost even more, Stuckart said.

Condon said he would deliver a line-item budget to the council on Oct. 8, when he is scheduled to give a statement to the council on the affairs and condition of the city.

The council is holding weekly budget briefings, which are open to the public and will run through October.

Public hearings before the council will be held later in the fall.

The deadline for approval is Dec. 31 under state law, which also requires cities to produce a balanced budget.

In other areas of the budget, the Library Board has indicated it will use unspent 2012 funds to close its 2013 library budget gap, Condon said.

The parks department would save $1 million by cutting eight jobs, reducing recreation services and reorganizing its operation, the mayor said.

He said he plans to roll out a separate budget later for capital improvements.