The COVID-19 pandemic might have made 2020 historically miserable, but Spokane Valley prospered in a handful of ways.
That was the picture Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick painted Wednesday during his lunchtime State of the City address at CenterPlace Regional Event Center.
“It’s really a great time for our city,” Wick said. “It’s amazing the things we have going on.”
The State of the City address marked the first time Wick has spoken to a big crowd in person since the Spokane Valley City Council chose him as mayor in January 2020.
“This is the first time I get to do something mayoral,” he said with a grin.
Wick’s address touched a wide range of topics, but he spent much of his speech talking about the economy, roads and infrastructure.
Even though COVID-19 wreaked havoc on economies throughout the world, Spokane Valley had a great year, Wick said.
For instance, the city set an annual record with $299 million in permitted construction. Wick said the construction boom shows no signs of letting up and the permitted construction record is projected to fall once again in 2021.
“It’s going to just continue,” he said.
Some of the construction projects breaking ground in the city will improve transportation infrastructure, Wick said.
There are several major Spokane Valley transportation projects either ongoing or incoming.
The $26-million Barker Road grade separation will be a major benefit to the city, Wick said.
That project will create an overpass over the BNSF railway so that drivers don’t get stuck with long waits while trains rumble across the road.
Money for that project comes from a slew of state and federal sources, with Spokane Valley budgeting $3.6 million for it.
A Pines Road grade separation is on the horizon, Wick said. The city is still working to secure funding for that project.
When the Pines grade separation happens, it will have broad economic benefits, Wick said.
The city spent $32 million on capital projects in 2020, Wick said.
Public safety remains one of the city’s primary areas of focus, Wick said, noting that the city dedicates more than 60% of its budget to public safety.
Wick mentioned that the Spokane Valley Police Department has made a few innovative changes during the pandemic, including bringing back its bike patrol and coordinating more with mental health experts.
The city needs to hire more police officers, Wick said, adding that if there are any officers throughout the state or country who are concerned about having their departments defunded, they should apply for vacancies in Spokane Valley.
Housing and homelessness remain two of the biggest challenges facing the city, Wick said. He argued that the city has done an excellent job addressing the housing crisis and homelessness, and serving as a model for the rest of the state.
“We’re leading the way for how we deal with homelessness and housing in our community,” Wick said.
Wick specifically pointed to the hiring of Arielle Anderson, the city’s housing and homeless coordinator. Anderson’s position was recently created and she started working for the city this spring.
“She has been doing a tremendous job,” Wick said.
Anderson works directly with the homeless and helps the city create policies to address the housing and homeless crises.
Wick also dedicated part of his address to the city’s recent park land purchases.
In 2020, the city bought a $2.1-million, 45-acre parcel near the intersection of Flora Road and Euclid Avenue. This spring, the city bought a $1.6 million, 17.7-acre property in the Ponderosa neighborhood.
Wick praised the Flora Road purchase in particular. The property is a gem, he said.
The city plans to create a 5-mile, $16.5-million loop trail that will connect the Flora Road property to Sullivan Park and Plante’s Ferry. The trail will have pedestrian bridges that cross the river.
Spokane Valley simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy such a gorgeous piece of land, Wick said.
“When are we ever going to have another opportunity to buy 46 acres along the Spokane River?” he said.
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