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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Legislature passes capital budget with funding for new housing and behavioral health resources in Spokane

The Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia.  (By Albert James / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – The Legislature has unanimously passed a $1.5 billion supplemental capital budget that includes funding for affordable housing and behavioral health resources in Spokane.

The supplemental plan – an adjustment to the $6.3 billion two-year budget passed last year – would invest in infrastructure and construction projects across the state. That includes $100 million for school seismic safety grants and retrofitting, $440 million for affordable housing, $111 million for behavioral health and $100 million for broadband infrastructure.

It uses a mix of state bonding and one-time federal infrastructure funds to pay for it.

This supplemental capital budget is “unlike any that we’ve had in recent years,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said on the floor. “We were blessed with resources unlike anything we’ve seen in an off year.”

In Spokane, the funding means additional investments in housing and behavioral health centers. It has $700,000 to build a community behavioral health center in Northeast Spokane.

Another large project in Spokane is the Fairchild Air Force Base protection and community empowerment project, which will receive $2.2 million. That funding will be used to purchase 20 acres of land around the base plus the mobile homes on that land, and build affordable housing.

The extra funding will create a $70,000 pilot project for the base to pay for moving and the down payment or closing costs of up to $7,000 for 10 people or families living in those mobile homes.

If the land purchased by the county or the city of Airway Heights is used for commercial or industrial uses, it must pay the money back to the state.

The budget also provides $400,000 for renovations to the lodge at Mount Spokane and $200,000 in funding for improvements at Felts Field.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, praised the additional funding for those projects in his district.

“Fourth District taxpayers send a lot of their money to Olympia,” Padden said in a statement. “The capital budget brings some of that money back home to help fund important projects in our community, which also creates and preserves jobs.

There’s also $103,000 for Transitions in Spokane, a nonprofit organization that works to end poverty and homelessness, and $1.5 million for the St. Agnes Haven project in Spokane.

Washington State University will receive $2 million to install new high-density, compact shelves in Holland Library.

When speaking in favor of the proposal on the floor, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, showed his support for funding provided in the budget to replace the Almira Elementary School, which was destroyed by a fire last year. The budget provides almost $13 million, to be combined with insurance funds, for the school.

“I’m pleased with (the budget) both from a local perspective and how it will help the state overall,” Schoesler said in a statement.

The budget is one of three that the Legislature must pass by Thursday when their 60-day session is scheduled to end. The operating budget, which funds most programs in the state, and the transportation budget have yet to make it to final passage.

The supplemental capital budget invests $100 million into a new grant program that will provide money to retrofit school buildings in areas of high risk for seismic hazards.

Grants will fund at least two-thirds of the cost of a building project to remedy hazards posed by earthquakes or tsunamis. Eligible schools would apply for funding through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, where an advisory board would create a prioritized list of projects. The superintendent of public instruction and the governor would take that list and include applications as part of their annual capital budget request.

Frockt, who sponsored the bill, said putting the program into law ensures money for school retrofits will come every year, as opposed to the “piecemeal” funding that has been historically provided.

“We need a whole of government approach to shore up these schools in these areas where these kids could be at risk,” Frockt told The Spokesman-Review last month.

The capital budget also invests $300 million into a rapid capital housing acquisition program, which would provide funding for converting property into emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing or transitional housing. The priority of the program is to move people from encampments and rights-of-way into transitional and more permanent housing, according to the budget highlights.

It also provides $72 million to expand care for individuals in crisis needing behavioral health services, specifically those who are homeless. There’s also almost $129 million for projects to provide safer drinking water to communities and $236 million for projects that improve water pollution control.

S-R reporter Albert James contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article had the incorrect funding amounts for the Northeast Spokane behavioral health center and the Mt. Spokane lodge renovations. It has since been updated.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.