Mayor Nadine Woodward touted her administration’s successes while warning of a financially uncertain future in an address to the Spokane City Council on Monday.
Woodward outlined the financial toll taken on the city by the coronavirus pandemic, but noted progress her administration has made in four areas – housing, homelessness, economic development and public safety – since she took office at the beginning of 2020.
“As a city, we’ve prepared ourselves well to make a strong recovery and improve the quality of life for everyone in our community, and one thing the pandemic has repeatedly taught us is that we are stronger together,” Woodward said.
Woodward is required by city law to give an Annual Statement of the Conditions and Affairs of the City to the City Council. It is not the annual state of the city address, which the mayor typically gives earlier in the year.
The statement typically centers on the financial condition of the city, but Woodward used it as an opportunity to broadly update the council on her administration’s work.
Woodward once again addressed the City Council virtually and from the confines of her office due to the coronavirus pandemic, a fact that did not go unmentioned.
The pandemic continues to be at the center of Woodward’s tenure thus far in office and in her administration’s planning for the 2022 city budget.
Woodward estimated the city’s pandemic-related revenue losses at about $20 million, and she said her approach to the 2022 budget has been “strategic and modest.” The city was allocated about $81 million in American Rescue Plan funds, which Woodward said would need to be split between supporting the community and the city’s own operations.
“Our outlook is cautious and thoughtful while being realistic about continuing revenue impacts resulting from the pandemic,” Woodward said.
She acknowledged the strain the city’s employees and community have been under during the pandemic.
“I appreciate the work, contributions and sacrifices everyone is making,” Woodward said. “We are all carrying burdens never imagined and tackling new obstacles.”
Despite those challenges, Woodward said her administration continues to make progress on her signature issues.
Woodward is planning to open a new, low-barrier shelter somewhere outside the city’s downtown core.
“Once a location, funding and operator are identified, we believe a location could be open and operating within just a couple months,” Woodward said.
She touted the city’s new contract with the Guardians Foundation to operate the city-owned Cannon Street homeless shelter. Woodward plans to have the shelter open year-round, offering overnight beds during inclement weather and emergencies, while always being open during the day to help connect people to resources.
The city also inked a deal with Truth Ministries, a shelter for men on East Sprague Avenue, to provide flexible shelter space during emergencies.
Woodward also has backed a new young adult shelter operated by Volunteers of America and a Bridge Housing Program operated by the Salvation Army.
“We’ve focused our work during the past year and a half on smart investments in assets that meet immediate pandemic needs that have allowed us to focus on future additions,” Woodward said.
To help address the housing crisis, Woodward said two new planning specialists are joining City Hall this month. Wait times for new housing permits have been reduced from six weeks to two weeks, she said, and single-family and multifamily housing construction has been strong.
The mayor plans to hire a housing policy specialist by the end of the year, she said.
Woodward noted it’s been a year since the city opened a new police precinct downtown and, in that span, has expanded the behavioral health unit that pairs police officers with mental health professionals.
She shared a story about how that unit helped steer a 60-year-old woman into treatment at Frontier Behavioral Health. She was one of more than 400 reached by the behavioral health unit this summer.
“Those interactions kept people safe, out of jail and the emergency room, and saved the Spokane Police Department hundreds of officer hours so they could focus on responding to crimes and helping other people,” Woodward said.
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