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

Condon releases city’s 2016 capital, operational budget proposals

Calling the upcoming year “pivotal” in its large funding outlays toward street work, renovating Riverfront Park and the continued effort to stop pollutants from entering the Spokane River, Spokane Mayor David Condon released his 2016 budget proposal Monday, sticking to budget principles he’s maintained since writing his first spending plan.

Condon also released a capital budget plan beside the proposed operational budget. The capital budget identifies what public facilities need to be built or maintained over the next six years. The city has identified $877 million in spending for capital needs through 2021.

Condon said the release of both budgets has not happened before but was important to creating long-term goals and stability.

“It’s so critical we have those conversations together so that we know what we are building, literally building, in our capital budget is supported in our operational budget,” Condon said at a news conference Monday. “That level of planning has not happened.”

Condon released the budget more than two months before the deadline to deliver a detailed, line-item budget to the City Council. The City Council must approve a budget before the end of the year.

The total city expenses for 2016 are estimated to be $824.7 million, a 1.4 percent increase over this year’s expenditures. Compared to 2013, the first year that operated under a Condon budget proposal, the 2016 proposal amounts to a 27 percent increase over that year’s $647.7 million in expenses.

The city will spend $175.1 million to support the general fund, which pays for programs mostly supported by taxes, such as police, fire, parks and library departments.

As it did last year, the city will raise property taxes by 1 percent to help pay for vehicles and equipment in the fire and police departments. The 1 percent tax hike is allowed under state law without voter approval, and the money is matched with other city funding.

Calling the city “a people business,” Condon acknowledged that a big chunk of the city’s budget was devoted to wages and benefits of its employees. In 2016, those expenses are expected to amount to $224.8 million. In 2013, about $195.1 million went to wages and benefits. Condon said about $3.5 million in contractual pay increases for employees are expected in 2016.

No layoffs or reductions in positions at the city are part of Condon’s proposal. The budget proposal is funding 2,094 positions, compared to 2,011 in Condon’s first budget, when he cut nearly 93 positions from the city’s payroll.

As in years past, the utilities department accounts for most of the spending, at $313.8 million next year. The department is shouldering the work mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop pollution from entering the Spokane River. To help pay for the work, utility rates will increase by 2.9 percent next year, which has been determined by the city to be the average annual rate of inflation.

The city will spend $67 million on its effort to keep pollutants out of the Spokane River, part of its Integrated Clean Water Plan.

Last year’s voter-approved, 20-year levy “will nearly double the money we spend on streets,” Condon said, from $25 million to $46 million spent on roadways in 2016.

The mayor’s proposal also plows more funds into the city’s reserves. Between 2012-14, the city put no money into savings. This year, the city is expected to put $1.3 million into reserves, and in 2016 about $2.8 million is proposed for reserves.

“Reserve accounts were depleted during the lean years and need to be rebuilt,” Condon said. “Much like running a household budget, reserves are the backbone of financial stability.”

Condon said the budget reflects what citizens want out of government, citing efforts by his administration to engage people on social media, during telephone town halls and in person to ask them their thoughts on spending priorities.

“For my kids it was the first day back to school,” Condon said. “We’re no different here in city government. It’s our first day back to start a process of a long, deliberative discussion over the next several months with our community and with the City Council.”