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Spokane City Council considers $27.8M in federal COVID-19 relief funds for college scholarships, community centers, small businesses and more

Aug. 1, 2022 Updated Mon., Aug. 1, 2022 at 5:06 p.m.

The Spokane City Council is expected to vote Monday on how to spend another $27.75 million of the city’s share of federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The council has already allocated roughly $39.7 million of the approximately $81 million awarded to Spokane through the American Rescue Plan, the federal stimulus program passed by Congress last year to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council’s allocations to date include $13.7 million approved in January, with much of that toward affordable housing, and $12.1 million passed in March for causes including homelessness services support, behavioral health programs and mobile medical clinics.

Here’s the list up for a vote Monday:

• $1.5 million split three ways to community centers on city-owned property: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the Northeast Community Center and the West Central Community Center.

• $2.4 million to cover one-time payments to each member of Local 270, the union that represents around 1,100 city workers in areas including street maintenance, trash collection and water utility operations, as part of their contract approved by the City Council earlier this month; negotiated by the city administration and approved by the council, union members are each in line for $2,000 payments in lieu of higher pay raises, said Council President Breean Beggs.

• $5 million for scholarship assistance to all high school students in the city who graduate and attend an institution of secondary learning.

• $10 million, $5 million each, for grant programs supporting nonprofits and small businesses affected by COVID-19.

• $5 million for the capital cost of a new municipal justice center.

• $2.5 million for grants to neighborhood business district associations and other independent business associations for capital improvements, business improvement, procurement enhancement, marketing and branding services.

• $1 million for grants to organizations seeking to remodel, purchase or build multicultural centers in the city.

• $350,000 for administrative support related to distributing ARPA funds.

It’s possible Monday’s ordinance could also be adjusted to help cover cooling tent operations at the Camp Hope homeless encampment at Second Avenue and Ray Street. The tent, owned by Jewels Helping Hands, is operating through a grant provided by the Empire Health Foundation.

The latest list was decided by narrowing down priority projects compiled by each member of the City Council as well as Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration. At a June study session, the City Council conducted a scoring exercise to help decide which requests should have the highest priority.

Here’s a breakdown of how some of that funding would be spent if approved:

Community centers

The $1.5 million allocated to the three community centers for capital investments comes with something of a caveat.

In exchange for the funds, the centers would agree to grant at least 100 square feet of office space and access to common areas to grassroots organizations at no cost to those groups.

The arrangement would last for the remainder of the community center’s lease agreement with the city or five years, whichever is longer.

“This is one-time money. Once it’s gone, it’s gone; it’s not going to reoccur and magically reappear,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said Thursday. “So I’m hoping that the community centers don’t have an expectation that if they use it to start a program or to pay staff or whatever, there’s not more money coming. This is it.”

Specifically related to the Northeast Community Center, the $500,000 is meant to fund a new behavioral health clinic at the former Hillyard library building on North Cook Street.

As proposed, MultiCare would operate the Northeast Spokane Community Behavioral Health Clinic at 4005 N. Cook St., with referrals from the Northeast Community Center, which neighbors the former library.

The City Council committed the $500,000 in funding in March, though an exact source wasn’t identified at that time.

Higher education

The third batch of proposed funding also includes $5 million to support a $150 million program launched by Innovia to help all students in the Inland Northwest pay for college or vocational training.

The Spokane-based community foundation announced the LaunchNW initiative in May, with goals of raising the funds through public and private sources to support scholarships and workforce training.

The $5 million would also support high school and college success services for city residents and administrative costs of the program from September 2022 through August 2026, according to City Council documents.

Municipal justice center

The City Council in May passed a resolution urging the city administration to negotiate a deal to buy the 252,000-square-foot campus use by Premera Blue Cross at 3900 E. Sprague Ave.

The council is interested in using the property as a municipal criminal justice center to house municipal court, court personnel, public defenders, prosecutors and criminal justice services. The initial plan was to also move the Spokane Police Department there, but police Chief Craig Meidl has since expressed his preference for a new police facility, Beggs said.

The $5 million included in Monday’s legislation would go toward the purchase of the campus.

The campus appeared off-the-market until recently, when a deal fell through and the property returned at a lower price, Beggs said. The deal would include a request for Premera to lease the property for 18 months to two years as they build a new campus in the Kendall Yards neighborhood.

“I think right now, it’s in the $10 million range,” Beggs said. “To replicate that building and the furniture for what we need for criminal justice would be something like $30 million or $40 million, so it’s a really good opportunity. It frees up a lot of money for us going forward for other criminal justice things.”

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