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Commissioner French won’t push for next phase of re-opening until case counts decline

UPDATED: Wed., July 29, 2020

Al French, a Spokane County Commissioner, said the county will have to wait to move from Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan.  (COLIN MULVANY)
Al French, a Spokane County Commissioner, said the county will have to wait to move from Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan. (COLIN MULVANY)

Spokane County Commissioner Al French said Wednesday he doesn’t plan to push the county move forward in Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan until case counts are under control, which likely won’t be for several weeks.

“I want to move to Phase 3 as soon as it’s practical,” he said in a Northwest Passage Book Club forum. “As soon as we can demonstrate we have control of the virus, we have control of the spread of the virus and our hospitalization is more than adequate to handle a flare up.”

In the meantime, French said he and other commissioners are working on distributing the county’s $91 million portion of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act and the county’s budget.

Commissioners have distributed about two-thirds of the county’s allotment of CARES funds, with the two largest investments going toward the Spokane Regional Health District, which received $6 million, and to Greater Spokane Incorporated to administer a $10 million business grant program. French also highlighted the more than $2 million commissioners awarded to Visit Spokane, Greater Spokane Incorporated, Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, West Plains Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Spokane Partnership for marketing.

French argued that funding was to boost consumer confidence so the economy can at some point recover, and that the money would be spent when some of those activities can resume.

“That is an eligible category,” he said. “We can provide restorative efforts to our economy.”

He said the funding would be used to boost the profile of Spokane’s venues to avoid events that have been held in Spokane moving to other places.

The CARES funding can only be used on COVID-19-related activities and must be spent by the end of the year. It can not be used on items already budgeted.

French said the county, which can’t use any CARES fund to back fill a budget deficit, may soon face financial issues due to a massive decline in revenue. He said the county is not filling vacant positions and is delaying programs in hopes of reducing expenses.

He said it’s possible that the county may have to at some point lay employees off, as it did during the 2008 recession.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it occurred,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent it.”

He said a large revenue drop could mean that any cut is on the table.

The full interview is available on The Spokesman-Review’s YouTube Channel and can be viewed at spokesman.com/northwest-passages.

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