Spokane is at a crossroads, Mayor Nadine Woodward told the City Council on Monday during her annual Statement of Conditions and Affairs.
Economically the city is on the mend after the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodward said. But socially, Spokane faces a number of challenges.
“We have needs to address related to mental health, public safety, housing and homelessness,” she said.
On the positive side, the city continues to add jobs, Woodward said. A number of sectors are showing strong economic growth.
However, city residents in general are struggling, the mayor said. The city’s median household income and poverty rates continue to be worse than the Washington average.
Spokane’s per capita income was $50,000 as of 2020, Woodward said. “Despite our standing as the second largest city, that placed us at just 17th in the state.”
The mayor emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on local government finances. She said the pandemic cost Spokane $37 million in revenue.
Woodward said her preliminary budget shows a $5 million gap between city expenses and revenues. City leaders will have difficult decisions to make in the months ahead as they put together the 2023 budget, she said.
Woodward used her address as an opportunity to highlight her budget priorities. She said she wants to improve cleanliness by investing in city litter crews and garbage pick up. Additionally, she said, the city needs to focus on “public safety, housing and homelessness services” while addressing the city’s staffing shortage.
“Funding is also directed toward increased shelter space, making better use of existing resources to help individuals and families get back on their feet and connecting people to services that stabilize and sustain,” Woodward said.
The mayor made a specific pitch as well: She wants the city to use some of the $81 million it received through the American Rescue Plan to cover unpaid utility bills.
“About 8,000 city customers make up nearly $8.5 million in past-due bills for water, sewer and garbage,” Woodward said. “Most of those customers fell behind in the early days of the pandemic and have not been able to catch up.”
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