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Spokane weighing how to use $84 million in COVID-19 stimulus money

UPDATED: Fri., May 28, 2021

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

City of Spokane officials are weighing how to spend $84 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus money and, so far, have reduced the strategy to 4 R’s.

Replenish, reach out, resiliency and relief.

The four-pronged framework, laid out in a proposed City Council resolution, is expected to guide the city’s decision-making process as it decides how to spend its two allotments of more than $40 million from the American Rescue Plan.

The City Council discussed the resolution in a study session on Thursday.

“This resolution is a first stab at trying to come up with a process to organize all the things that people think it would be great to do,” Council President Breean Beggs explained.

The resolution does not set aside money for specific purposes.

Instead, it focuses on the four themes.

The city will aim to “replenish” its own coffers, specifically to address revenues that were impacted by COVID-19.

An example would be Spokane Parks and Recreation, which had its programming disrupted by the pandemic last year.

Rather than just handing departments a check, Beggs said the focus will be on developing “responsive” projects. In the case of the parks department, that means funding the aquatics program that was canceled entirely in 2020.

As schools closed during the pandemic, the city lost revenues normally captured by its cameras that ticket motorists who speed through school zones. Budgeted for $2.6 million of fine revenue last year, the program had only garnered $1.2 million through November 2020.

The revenue from those tickets goes to projects aimed at making roads safer. The concept under the American Rescue Plan resolution would be not only to replenish the lost traffic calming revenue, but support specific traffic calming projects.

“Reach out” refers to funding community organizations that the city already funds, like Spokane C.O.P.S and Spokane Arts, that offer “quasi-city services,” Beggs said.

In providing “relief,” Beggs said the city will look to help businesses and residents in ways that alternative pandemic relief programs have not.

“Resiliency,” according to the draft resolution, calls for ”significant investments in forward-thinking initiatives that will create long-term, sustainable growth and stability for the City of Spokane and all its community members.”

To that end, Councilwoman Candace Mumm suggested piloting a two- or three-year prekindergarten program, funded by a combination of American Rescue Plan money and other federal and state money.

“There’s data to support this; it has a tremendous economic and social impacts down the road,” Mumm said.

The council is expected to vote on the resolution on June 7.

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