By Chris Cargill
Taxpayer money is apparently considered unlimited by those on the seventh floor of Spokane City Hall. That’s where the size and cost of the Spokane City Council budget has exploded and is now unsustainable.
Less than a decade ago, there were 13 people working in the Spokane City Council office at a cost of less than $1 million. Today, the number of full-time employees is up to 22 and the cost to taxpayers is up 175%. No one in Spokane can honestly say the work product coming out of the City Council is any better. In fact, in many ways it’s worse.
In an age of inflation, some increases can certainly be expected. But such drastic hikes in such a short period cannot be easily explained.
Much of the spending increase is to provide salary and benefits for new staff positions, at a time when families struggle to keep their own jobs and pay higher city taxes.
For example, the City Council now has a budget officer, a director of policy and government relations, a senior executive assistant to the council president, a director of communications and community engagement, a manager of homelessness initiatives, a manager of neighborhood connectivity initiatives, a manager of sustainability initiatives, a manager of equity and inclusion and a manager of intergovernmental affairs.
At a salary range of $55,917 to $135,991 per year, most of the positions pay much more than the median household income in Spokane.
The council is the legislative body. It plays an important role in the management of the city, but the city charter indicates the council should be part time.
Because of a ballooning budget, in 2014 then City Councilmembers Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori sought to ask citizens it they wanted the council to be part time or full time? The proposal was an effort go gauge citizen appetite for higher salaries, benefits and size of the council office itself.
However, the City Council at that time rejected the effort, saying there were “more important things to worry about.” City Councilwoman Candace Mumm added “I don’t have any interest in making this a full-time job.”
A few years later, councilmembers got a 44% raise.
Today, working families, small business owners and nonprofits are struggling to balance budgets, while the Spokane City Council budget is facing no difficulties.
Spokane City Council president Breann Beggs told a meeting of hundreds of Rotarians last year that “we’re living in an era of limited government resources.” But Spokane city leaders are not acting like it.
Taxpayers deserve to know their burden is increasing so that the office of the Spokane City Council can cash in.
Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director of Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization based in Seattle. Online at washingtonpolicy.org. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and sit on the organization’s board.