The Spokane County Commission on Monday unanimously approved a $937 million budget for 2024.
Perhaps most notably, the 2024 budget includes funding for a 13th Superior Court judge and three support staffers associated with that position – a judicial assistant, a court reporter and a clerk.
Stakeholders throughout Spokane County’s criminal justice system for years have called for a 13th Superior Court judge, and argued a lack of judges is slowing down the legal system. The Washington Legislature in 1997 decided the position was needed and agreed to partially fund it.
“It’s long overdue,” County Commissioner Chris Jordan said. “That’s a big deal.”
The 2024 budget also includes funding for about 20 new law enforcement vehicles, a $34,000 bomb suit for the Sheriff’s Office and various upgrades for county buildings.
Jordan, and his fellow Democratic Commissioner Amber Waldref, tried unsuccessfully on Monday to secure funding for two specific projects.
The Democrats wanted to set aside $25,000 for the Pre-Employment Preparation Program. That effort primarily exists to help young people find apprenticeship opportunities in trade professions, mostly in the construction industry.
Republican commissioners Mary Kuney, Josh Kerns and Al French shot down the request. Kuney said she didn’t want to dedicate funding to the program because it’s too similar to an effort led by the Associated General Contractors.
Waldref and Jordan also wanted to set aside $100,000 to improve language access.
The money could have paid for new signs, over-the-phone translation subscriptions and other efforts aimed at helping people who don’t speak English communicate when they visit the Spokane County campus.
Kerns, French and Kuney denied that request too, while also saying they support the concept.
Kuney said she objected to setting the money aside because she’s unsure how much improving language access will cost.
French said he believes expanding language access is a good idea, but “not ready for primetime yet.”
All five commissioners agreed to set aside $500,000 for investment at Saltese Flats. The $500,000 will come out of the $3.7 million Spokane County got from Monsanto as part of a class-action lawsuit.
The county recently built a learning center overlooking the Saltese Flats wetland in Liberty Lake. Local schools can bring students to the learning center on field trips.
The county budget has risen dramatically in recent years. Spokane County had budgets in the $675 million range from 2020 through 2022.
The 2023 budget was $873 million, although there was a straightforward explanation for the uptick. The county was spending $30 million on a new law enforcement shooting range on the West Plains. On top of that, the county had $101 million in one-time federal stimulus funds sitting in its budget.
Federal stimulus funds account for more than $70 million in the 2024 budget.
French said the new budget “reflects my values.”
He said he’s particularly proud that Spokane County is spending an unprecedented amount of money on public safety. The county’s overall public safety budget in 2024 is $138 million.
Spokane County will spend nearly $61 million next year on jails and $58 million on law enforcement.
“Would I have liked to have spent more? Yes,” French said. “But again, we live within our means.”