Spokane Valley is prioritizing affordable housing, a new facility for a local food bank and sewer infrastructure for its $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.
“What we’re trying to do here is put money out on a one-time basis that would benefit us, without incurring recurring expenses,” Spokane Valley City Councilman Rod Higgins said.
The city got the money through the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Congress passed in March 2021 to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s likely a one-time opportunity for Spokane Valley, and on Tuesday, the City Council started deciding in earnest how to spend its millions.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how well that it went,” City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said. “We, for the most part, seem to agree on everything.”
Before Tuesday’s discussion, the City Council already had set aside $2 million for three purposes.
About $250,000 will cover various American Rescue Plan and pandemic-related costs to the city government. Roughly $750,000 will pay for a new sewer line on Buckeye Avenue. The Innovia Foundation likely will get $1 million for its LaunchNW initiative. Innovia says the project will benefit the local economy by helping more kids go to college or trade schools, and growing the region’s workforce.
The City Council wants to spend $6 million of the remaining $14 million to buy land, mainly with affordable housing and mental health services in mind.
Spokane Valley might be able to indirectly create more affordable housing by buying land and handing to third-party organizations like nonprofits, which often lack the capital to make big land purchases but could put housing on the land.
“You can’t really put together a housing plan if you don’t have the property secured beneath it,” City Councilman Ben Wick said.
Buying property also could help the city avoid American Rescue Plan restrictions.
Local governments have to decide how to use their dollars by the end of 2024 and spend them by the end of 2026. Starting and finishing a construction project in that timeframe may be difficult. Buying land would be easier.
Spokane Valley plans to put $4 million toward a new $12.5-million, 15,000 square-foot facility for Spokane Valley Partners, a social services nonprofit best known as a food bank.
“We can help them get into a new building,” Wick said. “That’s a one-time capital cost and not an ongoing operational cost.”
David Stone, Spokane Valley Partners’ program manager, said his organization has outgrown the converted church it’s using for warehousing and office space.
Angie Kelleher, Spokane Valley Partners’ director of development and communication, said the number of people needing food has spiked in the last year.
From the first quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022, Spokane Valley Partners has seen a 30% increase in people needing food, Kelleher said.
“We have just sort of exploded beyond what we had already grown as a result of COVID,” she said. “It isn’t what we hoped.”
Not only would a new facility help Spokane Valley Partners store food, diapers and clothes, it also would provide more office space.
Spokane Valley Partners shares a building with other nonprofits, including Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners and Catholic Charities. A new facility will help all of the organizations fit better under one roof.
That will allow Spokane Valley Partners to increasingly serve as an all-in-one resource center for city residents. Kelleher noted that the nonprofit hopes a mental health assistance organization can have an office in the new building.
Spokane Valley’s also prioritizing infrastructure.
Unfortunately for the City Council, American Rescue Plan dollars can’t go toward road projects. Water, sewer and broadband projects are eligible, however.
The city intends to put $1.4 million toward sewer infrastructure, on top of the money allocated for the Buckeye Avenue project.
About $843,000 is slated for the Spokane Valley Police Department. Those dollars will go toward technological improvements, such as new cameras and license plate readers.
Some of the money is headed to the arts. The Spokane Valley Performing Arts Center, a $36 million project, is expected to receive $786,000.
Higgins said the performing arts center could benefit the local economy.
“There’s nothing like it for miles around,” he said. “If we’re looking for something that’s going to be supportive of our businesses, and especially our hoteliers, then I think this has a lot of possibilities.”
Both mental health assistance and mental health learning support likely will get $500,000.
Peetz said investment in mental health is critical.
“We’ve got so many people that are struggling right now,” she said.
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