Teamwork is helping Spokane County make great strides with criminal justice reform and economic development, Commissioner Mary Kuney said in her first State of the County address Friday.
Kuney highlighted several upcoming transportation projects as well as business expansion in the West Plains, which is a direct result of the West Plains Public Development Authority – a partnership of the county, the city of Spokane and Spokane International Airport to promote economic development.
“We’ve got more retail going in out there. We’ve got more manufacturing going in out there. It’s because of the teamwork of the county, city and airport,” she said to an audience of more than 200 business and municipal leaders at the Spokane Convention Center.
Amazon is expected to open its fulfillment center in the West Plains this fall, bringing more than 1,500 jobs to the area. And Fairchild Air Force Base is expecting the arrival of more than 357 active duty airmen later this year to support the addition of more KC-135 aerial refueling tankers.
“Fairchild is very important to Spokane County. It’s our largest employer and so we at the Board of County Commissioners work very hard to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support and enhance their mission,” Kuney said. “We’re looking forward to the additional airmen and tankers that are coming in the fall.”
In preparation for growth on the West Plains, the county is embarking on the $44 million Geiger Boulevard improvement project this spring, which will widen the road from two to three traffic lanes, with a center turn lane. The upgrades are needed to accommodate heavy truck traffic at the Amazon site and future projects in the area.
Plans also call for construction of six roundabouts to replace signal intersections at the Medical Lake and Grove Road freeway interchanges. An additional roundabout will be constructed at Aero and Westbow roads, and a new parallel bridge will be built across Interstate 90 at the Medical Lake exit, providing additional travel lanes and a shared-use path.
Geiger Boulevard improvements will be phased in over two years and funded by a $14.3 million federal transportation grant awarded to the county last year, as well as more than $28 million from the Washington state Department of Transportation, the city of Spokane, the West Plains PDA and Spokane Transit Authority.
“With the Amazon facility going in, more businesses going in out there, it was very important for us to get funding moved up through (WSDOT), so we could get that project done sooner,” she said. “But also, it was the partnership between the county, the West Plains PDA and WSDOT to go back to Washington, D.C., to lobby for that grant. Those are a couple of the great things we’re doing when we all come together for transportation.”
Kuney mentioned the North Spokane Corridor as another example of regional teamwork.
The Legislature in 2015 allocated $879 million in funding for the corridor as part of the Connecting Washington package. The $1.5 billion project is also paid for through the state’s gas tax. Construction on the North Spokane Corridor began in 2001 and more than half of it is already built. The bulk of construction will be completed over the next 10 years.
“One of the things I know happened with the North Spokane Corridor, is it really took effort on the part of this community,” Kuney said. “It was the business community, it was the elected, it was everybody coming together that really led that charge. When thinking about teamwork necessary for the project, it doesn’t happen without regional support.”
Kuney touted the continuing success of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council and its efforts toward establishing a 16-bed mental health crisis stabilization facility that will provide treatment services as well as reduce the jail population.
Right now, law enforcement either takes the person to the emergency room or jail, she said, but the facility will provide an option for people to get help instead of entering the criminal justice system.
The county allocated more than $131 million toward public safety – its top priority – in its 2019 budget and will receive more than $1.9 million over the next two years in grant funds from the MacArthur Foundation toward reducing the jail population and eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Kuney said the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department now has mental health professionals riding with deputies to calm situations and provide services.
“The more that we can help our citizens be healthy and happy, the better we are going to be on our budget-side of our criminal justice system,” she said. “County commissioners are committed to having these tough discussions in this next year so we can make the path forward that we need.”
The State of the County address was sponsored by Greater Spokane Incorporated.
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