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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council considering ways to keep a closer eye on budget

As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021.   (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane City Council has the power of the purse. How often should it have to check its ledger?

Often, argues Councilman Michael Catchart.

Last winter, Cathcart voted in favor of the city’s budget for the first time since being elected. But his approval of the $1.2 billion 2023 budget came with three stipulations to address the concerns of himself and other council members that the city’s budget seemed to be growing unsustainable and difficult to keep on top of.

He secured the first stipulation in December: The city has to prioritize adding to its savings. An ordinance passed Dec. 12 committed the city to have savings, including unassigned and other reserves, equal to 25% of the general fund budget. Whenever those savings dip below 25%, the city must replenish it by at least 2% each year.

On Monday, the City Council had its first reading of an ordinance that would address Cathcart’s other two stipulations: budget adjustments should mostly happen at the same time, and budgeting should consider a two-year horizon, not just the next year. The ordinance is expected to come for a vote during the April 10 meeting of the City Council.

Rather than make constant adjustments to the budget through special ordinances, Cathcart proposes the council start using a supplemental budget system.

This supplemental budget would be a chance for a midyear review of the city’s finances, making adjustments as needed all at once so their collective fiscal effect can be better examined.

Every month, the council would receive an update on how revenues and expenditures compared to their budgets, with more detailed updates every quarter. City staff would also provide recommendations for reducing or increasing expenditures for accounts that are over or under budget.

Finally, although the city operates on annual budgets, Cathcart’s ordinance would require city departments to provide revenue and expenditure projections for the next two years. This way, City Council members don’t find themselves scrambling to respond to a budget shortfall for programs that aren’t sustainable.