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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woodward introduces preliminary city budget; includes funding for new homeless shelter

Mayor Nadine Woodward, center, stands with county commissioners Al French, left, and Josh Kerns in July. Woodward released an early draft of her budget proposal on Monday calling for more spending on homeless shelters.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward introduced an early draft of her $1.08 billion city budget on Monday that calls for increased funding of city libraries, cybersecurity, and additional staffing in her office.

The mayor’s preliminary budget also included a $4.3 million investment in a new low-barrier shelter as her administration wrestles with rising homelessness.

“We need another option in our shelter system because we are seeing – I think we’re seeing homelessness increase … we need a place for them to get them out of downtown and connected to services so we can then refer them to the programs that we are standing up now that have accountability in them,” Woodward said.

Woodward has long called for greater accountability to be demanded from those receiving homeless services, and she said that remains a priority for her administration. However, she said the low-barrier shelter is necessary because homelessness is on the rise.

Her budget also calls for the creation of a deputy city administrator position and launch of a one-person diversity, equity and inclusion office within the city’s human resources department.

“The investments that we’re proposing in the ’22 budget definitely reflect an approach that is strategic, that is modest, and in many cases the investments that you see are just first steps (of) things we hope to be able to grow later on,” Woodward said.

The $1.08 billion budget would be an increase of about 8.5% over city spending in the 2021 adopted budget, with an expected use of the 1% property tax increase allowed under state law.

More than one-third of the city’s total spending consists of salaries, wages and benefits.

Woodward told The Spokesman-Review the budget prioritizes spending on her four key focuses – public safety, homelessness, housing and economic development – while remaining conservative due to the economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration will hold four workshops with the City Council in October to review the budget before Woodward introduces her final proposal by Nov. 1. The council will then have until the end of the year to make any changes and pass a final version.

The proposal is Woodward’s second budget since she took office in 2020, but it’s a fundamentally different fiscal climate than last year.

The city is set to receive about $81 million in American Rescue Plan money and can use it to help offset its losses during the pandemic. The preliminary budget includes an array of proposals for using American Rescue Plan funds, including nearly $9 million for new police and fire equipment.

Federal coronavirus aid lifted up the city’s spending over the past year, including on homelessness, but it’s not expected to last through 2022. For example, the city’s homeless shelter on Cannon Street is funded with grant money through the middle of 2022, but it’s unclear if more will be available. The mayor’s preliminary budget calls for a back-up plan of using $900,000 from the city’s Local Affordable Housing Sales Tax revenue to fund the shelter.

Woodward’s plans include opening a new night-by-night, low-barrier homeless shelter at a yet-to-be-determined location somewhere outside downtown. The budget calls for $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to get the shelter up and running, then $2.8 million to support its operation as a 24/7 “navigation center.”

“It’s a whole new shelter, and it would be something that could be stood up relatively quickly out of the downtown core but connect people to resources, services they need,” Woodward said.

The budget also calls for $1 million to support Volunteers of America’s planned Crosswalk teen shelter, $500,000 to support the Salvation Army’s Way Out Shelter and $1 million to support rapid rehousing projects.

The mayor wants to make permanent the 10 positions added this year to help with downtown cleanup and graffiti abatement. She’s also asked for funding for two new positions to assist the city’s 311 service.

In the realm of public safety, Woodward set aside an additional $156,152 to support the police department’s behavioral health unit, two new positions to reduce wait times for police public records requests and a new position to support victims of violent crime.

To support her own office, Woodward has proposed the city hire a deputy city administrator at a cost of $150,000.

Projecting the 2022 budget remains a challenge even as 2021 comes to a close, said Tony Wallace, the city’s chief financial officer.

“We’re standing up on our two feet, but we need to move forward and certainly move forward in an environment that’s going to be different,” Wallace said.

The administration directed department leaders to review their budgets line-by-line, with a directive to “maintain services,” not enhance them, or even make up for the backlog that occurred during a quasi-hiring freeze in 2020.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s 2021 proposed preliminary budget:

Total spending: $1.08 billion, an 8.5% increase over 2021

Property Tax Revenue: $48.7 million, a 2.9% increase over 2021

Other key investments:

•$325,000 to support the city’s expanded, renovated network of libraries.

•Five new positions in the Public Works Department.

•$150,000 for emergency shelter during extreme heat, cold and poor air quality caused by wildfires.

•$1.4 million for eight new positions in fire prevention services, which will be funded by an increase in permit fees approved in 2021.

•$131,000 for a wildland fire resource planner.

•$300,000 to create a Revenue Management Office.

•$114,908 for a second labor relations position in the human resources department.