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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council approves $1 billion budget with new office of civil rights and 6% boost in police spending

Dec. 13, 2021 Updated Mon., Dec. 13, 2021 at 9:29 p.m.

The Spokane City Council last week approved the nomination of Jennifer Cerecedes, a veteran of SNAP, to oversee the city's response to housing and homelessness issues.   (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane City Council last week approved the nomination of Jennifer Cerecedes, a veteran of SNAP, to oversee the city's response to housing and homelessness issues.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane City Council adopted a $1 billion budget on Monday that includes funding for a new office of civil rights and an additional homeless shelter.

The council agreed to bolster its support for the city’s civil rights coordinator, funding two positions beneath him and creating a standalone department.

It also backed several of Mayor Nadine Woodward’s central initiatives, including operational funding for a new homeless shelter that she plans to have built at a yet-to-be-determined location outside of downtown.

After weeks of negotiations between council members and administration officials, the two branches of government had few disagreements. The outstanding questions in recent days centered on the source of funding for agreed needs, such as homeless services.

Councilman Michael Cathcart was the only member to vote against the budget.

The budget includes $250,000 to help recruit new police officers with signing bonuses and an approximately 6% increase in police department funding – a boost touted by council members eager to dispel the notion they want to defund the police.

Described by Woodward as her second consecutive “priority-based budget,” the spending plan calls for the full 1% increase in property taxes allowed under Washington law and a raise in utility rates by 2.9%.

The total impact of the council’s numerous changes to Woodward’s budget proposal was not immediately clear on Monday night. The largest adjustment made by the council was removing about $75 million in spending from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act account from the mayor’s budget proposal; the council will take up proposals for spending that money through a separate approval process.

“We’re still going to consider the (American Rescue Plan Act) things, especially for things like some fire trucks and other programs that people know that we need,” said Council President Breean Beggs.

Otherwise, the council’s final budget largely aligns with the one proposed by Woodward in November.

The council approved Woodward’s request to operate a new semipermanent structure that will serve as a low-barrier homeless shelter, meaning it will not impose requirements on its guests like sobriety or adherence to a religion, for $2.8 million.

The budget also commits $1 million to Volunteers of America’s new Crosswalk Youth Shelter building near Spokane Community College and $900,000 to continue operations at the city-owned Cannon Street shelter.

But the council rejected Woodward’s request for a deputy city administrator and legislative policy adviser, which combined would have cost about $175,000 annually.

The office of civil rights was the subject of debate in recent weeks.

Jerrall Haynes, the city’s first civil rights coordinator and outgoing Spokane School Board president, was hired by Woodward earlier this year. His primary task was to define what the scope of the position would be.

Advocates for creating a full civil rights office, including members of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, called for the City Council to establish it with six employees fully dedicated to fielding complaints of civil rights violations and conducting community outreach.

The council ultimately found a compromise between Woodward’s budget proposal, which included funding only for Haynes, and the calls for a more broadly staffed office.

The council officially established the office of civil rights via a standalone ordinance – and for many council members, the unanimous vote was a long time coming.

Kinnear said she successfully pushed to add a civil rights director position to the city budget every year since 2017, but the job was never filled until this year. Haynes is now in that position and is expected to receive help soon.

“It feels almost anticlimactic, but what a great relief,” Kinnear said.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson pointed out that it is not just an office for people of color, and that civil rights apply to everyone.

Beggs credited Woodward with filling the civil rights coordinator position, which set up the city to establish a full civil rights office.

Council members Lori Kinnear and Karen Stratton addressed community concerns that they want to defund the police. Kinnear noted that the budget not only increases police spending, but the number of positions in the police department.

“We are not, we have not talked about it, we have no plans to defund the Spokane Police Department,” Stratton said.

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