The Spokane City Council approved a 2017 budget Monday night that increases spending on services for the poor and sets aside money from speeders in school zones for additional neighborhood cops.
The council, which had been at odds this summer with Mayor David Condon over personnel decisions, also approved the reorganization of the mayor’s Cabinet, though City Councilwoman Karen Stratton accused the administration of spending too much attention on department heads and not enough on essential city services.
“We aren’t tearing down any silos,” Stratton said. “We’re making them larger, more expensive, and less efficient, in my opinion.”
Condon, who appeared before the council to present his budget and appointments, said reorganizing his Cabinet – changes that were first announced in January – would better align top City Hall officials with functions of good government. He dismissed the claim it would cost taxpayers more money.
“It is critical that we have senior managers that continue to meet the needs of our citizens,” Condon said.
Stratton – who was the lone vote against Condon’s appointee, Craig Meidl, to lead the police department – was also the only vote against the Cabinet changes Monday night.
Scott Simmons, Jonathan Mallahan and Tim Dunivant were confirmed as directors of public works, neighborhood services and the budget, respectively. Christine Cavanaugh shed the interim in front of her human resources title, replacing Heather Lowe, who resigned her position this summer.
All four Cabinet members received salary increases as a result of their promotions, totaling between $13,000 and $22,000. Dunivant earns $148,975, the same as the city’s chief financial officer, Gavin Cooley, who has shifted focus from spending to investments and debt management following Condon’s realignment earlier this year.
Cavanaugh sent salary figures for the Cabinet members to all City Council members at the request of Stratton, who’s been a vocal critic of Condon’s hiring decisions as avoiding the civil service process. Stratton said before Monday’s meeting she was discouraged the city was spending more on administrative salaries while scrambling to come up with funding sources for neighborhood resource officers and other social programs.
But Cavanaugh included statewide averages for the four positions in cities of comparable size, noting Spokane pays less than most other Washington urban centers. Condon referred to those figures in his rebuttal of Stratton’s remarks.
The $945 million spending plan for next year is a roughly 17 percent increase in expenses over 2016, according to the city’s budget office. That number includes spending from all sources, including tax revenue, grants, bonds and fees. The 2017 budget reflects the costs of construction in Riverfront Park, the installation of stormwater retention tanks as part of plans to clean up the Spokane River, and more planned street construction downtown.
General fund spending, supported mostly by taxes, will also increase to $181.5 million next year, up a little over 2 percent from 2016. City utility rates will increase at the 2.9 percent amount they were capped at by law in 2014. Sales tax receipts and income from private utilities are both expected to increase next year.
City Council President Ben Stuckart requested excess dollars be moved to the police ombudsman to help pay for staff and legal services, as City Hall and the police unions negotiate the authority of the office.
The council and Condon agreed to spend about half a million dollars collected in fines from speeders in school zones to pay the salaries of four new neighborhood resource officers next year, who will split their time between efforts to reduce speeding near schools and property crime. The City Council is working on an ordinance that would designate how school zone fines can be spent over the next two years, and City Councilman Breean Beggs said a vote on that proposal would come up in December.
Stuckart, who’s been meeting with members of Condon’s administration since February to finalize the budget, applauded the city’s increasing investment in social services, setting aside $250,000 to help establish a 24/7 homeless shelter in Spokane. He said the investment brings the city closer to his goal of spending at least 1 percent of the general fund on assistance for the poor.
“That’s the least we should be willing to do at the city,” Stuckart said.
The council approved the 2017 budget unanimously, though Stratton said she voted yes “reluctantly.”
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