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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Theresa Sanders: We’ve accomplished much over the past eight years

By Theresa Sanders City of Spokane

I’ve been honored to have a unique view of our city – our challenges and triumphs – over the past eight years. As Spokane’s city administrator, I’m responsible for daily operations and about 2,000 employees. Growing up here, graduating from North Central and EWU, I feel immense pride in all we have achieved as city staff and a community.

As Mayor Condon’s second terms nears conclusion, it feels right to bookend eight years with a reflection on our progress.

From the start, this administration aimed to make Spokane the “City of Choice” – where people choose to live because it’s safe, smart and healthy. To that end, we worked with the City Council to create a joint strategic plan called One Spokane. The plan has four pillars under which we make decisions and investments: Safe and Healthy, Sustainable Resources, Innovative Infrastructure, and Urban Experience.

First, One Spokane focuses on ensuring a Safe and Healthy community. Mayor Condon worked with police Chief Craig Meidl on solutions that increased the number of officers and decreased complaints. In 2018, overall crime saw a 15 percent decrease.

Our Police Department has done incredible, innovative work to build trust and legitimacy in our community. They implemented body cameras as standard practice, and created the Police Activities League that builds relationships with hundreds of youth through athletics, academics and community service. Mental health professionals from Frontier Behavioral Health co-deploy with our officers on certain crisis calls to connect people with resources.

Our Fire Department added Alternative Response Units, SUVs with two firefighters who respond to less-urgent medical calls. We also collaborated with local partners on a 100 Day Youth Challenge, and 109 young people experiencing homelessness found housing. This year, through our coordinated programs, we have supported 2,667 people who exited from homelessness to permanent housing.

Next, our plan looks at Sustainable Resources, making solid financial decisions that contribute to economic prosperity and deliver excellent customer service. Since 2014, we’ve seen the city’s median household income rise 37 percent, more than double the country’s growth rate. We’re keeping utility rates low with a 20-year commitment to annual rate increases of no more than 2.9 percent, among the lowest in the U.S. Meanwhile, our AA credit rating and level of reserves is the highest in our city’s history.

To improve customer service and make government more accessible, we implemented My Spokane 311, a one-stop customer service center. In creating our city’s 21st-century workforce, we developed a supportive employment program creating job opportunities for eligible individuals with disabilities.

Third, our strategic plan aims to create Innovative Infrastructure for community accessibility, mobility and resiliency. Voters approved a 20-year street levy, focusing on arterial improvements. We’ve also added 63 miles of bike lanes and four miles of multi-use trails since 2012.

The voter-approved Riverfront Park redevelopment is infusing fresh life and business into our urban core. New river access points increase recreation opportunities. Our community invested $180 million in underground storage tanks to manage pollution and create a cleaner Spokane River, a national model of innovative infrastructure. And the city documented we are net energy positive, thanks to green energy generation primarily at our Waste-to-Energy facility and Upriver Dam.

As infrastructure is crumbling around the country, our city is poised to invest $800 million over the next six years to ensure we remain strong. We’ve also aligned our economic strategies around those investments for targeted growth areas in the West Plains, northeast Spokane and the University District.

And finally, our focus on Spokane’s Urban Experience – promoting growth that connects people to place and builds upon our assets. Last year we saw a 60 percent increase in pool use when we made swimming free. Voters approved bond measures to update the library system and renovate middle schools that included a land swap with the city as part of a partnership with Spokane Public Schools. Our 2019 Summer Youth Card pilot project with STA and Spokane Public Schools provided more than 5,300 free bus passes for students to access activities around the city, like library programs and skate parks. Students took 118,000 bus rides.

And on top of it, job growth is up nearly 4 percent as our Hacking Washington campaign sees businesses growing their operations in the Spokane region and attracting a diverse and talented workforce.

These astounding achievements under the One Spokane plan are the result of a community uniting with positive momentum and making choices – big and small – about how we invest our resources and our energy. Along with the mayor, we’d like to express deep appreciation for our city staff and community members. Together, we are creating the City of Choice – a safer, smarter and healthier Spokane, poised for future success.

Theresa Sanders is the city administrator for the city of Spokane. The full report is available at OneSpokanePlan.org.

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