Mayor Nadine Woodward finalized her $1.1 billion 2022 city budget proposal last week, tossing it to the City Council and launching a weekslong negotiation process.
The budget would be an increase of slightly more than 9% over the previous year, largely due to spending from the city’s allotment of American Rescue Plan funds, according to the administration. Spending those rescue plan funds could lead to debate with the City Council.
Council President Breean Beggs said his “topline takeaway” was that $20 million of the mayor’s proposed spending is uncovered, with the funding source listed as “to be determined.” Beggs voiced support for many of the mayor’s key items in the budget, even if he disagrees on the funding source.
The spending plan calls for a $4.3 million investment in a new low-barrier homeless shelter, which allows people inside even if they are intoxicated.
“Essentially the mayor has said ‘all right council, we’re not going to tell you how to pay for these or whether you should,’ ” Beggs explained. “What I was hoping is that funding sources for all those things – or strategies, like deferring some of the expense for a year – would be in the budget.”
The administration argues that approach is intentional – and the result of council member comments on the mayor’s preliminary budget introduced last month.
“Based upon the feedback from some members of the council, how they are finally funded will be the subject of some discussion,” said city spokesman Brian Coddington.
Beggs expressed concern that the budget does not plan for the negotiation of expired labor contracts that may saddle the city with retroactive pay raises for employees. It’s also not clear how much of the city’s American Rescue Plan funds the budget uses, Beggs said, and the mayor has not submitted any formal request to council to use that money.
“We need to be way more fiscally responsible in the final budget that we pass, even though as always there’s so many great things that people want to see done,” Beggs said.
The city was allocated $81 million in one-time federal aid through the American Rescue Plan. Some potential uses for the money, according to the administration, include expanded homeless shelter and equipment for the police and fire departments.
The city estimates its revenue losses at $21 million due to the pandemic, which American Rescue Plan funds can be used to cover.
The city’s general fund, which includes an array of departments such as police and Municipal Court, would increase by 4% over last year. The increase is in part because of the police officer raises included in the new contract with the Spokane Police Guild.
The budget also assumes city utility rates will increase 2.9% over the current year and raise property taxes by the maximum 1% allowed under state law.
The final budget proposal comes after several budget workshops held between the administration and City Council to discuss the mayor’s preliminary budget.
“I think the workshops were extremely helpful so we can explain the proposals, and I think those four workshops were insightful for everyone,” Woodward said.
As homelessness remains a top issue for Woodward’s administration, her 2022 plans include the opening of a low-barrier homeless shelter.
The concept is likely to receive support from council members who have called for additional shelter as cold weather approaches.
Woodward’s proposal for a semipermanent structure, at a yet-to-be-decided location outside downtown, isn’t exactly what Beggs would’ve drawn up. Still, he applauded her for seeking money for another homeless shelter.
“I was so happy that she did because that seemed very different from her approach previously,” Beggs said. “We need way more low-barrier beds to address the current crisis.”
Woodward told The Spokesman-Review this week that her administration continues to scout potential sites for the new shelter.
The budget also calls for $900,000 to fund the Cannon Street shelter, which is funded at least partly into 2022 thanks to federal COVID-19 aid.
The city would also invest $1 million in rapid rehousing solutions for people who are homeless, and contribute $1 million toward Volunteers of America’s effort to build a new Crosswalk youth shelter near Spokane Community College.
The budget also sets aside $250,000 to help recruit new police officers.
Councilman Michael Cathcart has advocated for the city to provide hiring bonuses to new police officers. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is offering signing bonuses of $5,000 for new deputies and $15,000 for lateral transfers, and Cathcart wants the city to match or exceed that offer.
In its proposed budget, however, the administration notes that the starting salary for a new city of Spokane officer is about $6,500 greater than that of one at the sheriff’s office.
For lateral transfers, the sheriff’s office starts at $72,000 with a $15,000 bonus, while the city starts at $63,000. However, the pay of a city officer tops out at $101,000 compared to $80,000 for a deputy.
The $250,000 set aside in Woodward’s budget should be doubled, Cathcart said.
“I don’t think it’s enough,” he told The Spokesman-Review. “I think we need to offer hiring bonuses that exceed what the county is offering.”
There are 13 vacancies out of a department of 356 officers, according to Coddington.
The council will hold budget hearings during its weekly Monday legislative meetings through November.
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