From staff reports
Although the race for Spokane mayor has sharply focused on homelessness, there are many other essential issues the leader of Washington’s second-biggest city must address.
The city pipes water to the homes of 230,000 or so people (and deals with what’s flushed down their toilets). It maintains the streets, fights fires, responds to sick and injured people, and determines when buildings are unsafe.
The Spokesman-Review will host debates Wednesday at Gonzaga University for mayor between incumbent Nadine Woodward and her opponent Lisa Brown and for Spokane City Council president between City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson and businesswoman Kim Plese.
While the serious issue of homelessness will be covered in the debates, the newspaper will explore some other topics as well.
As the city stares down a looming budget crunch and tough decisions to cut services or raise taxes become increasingly likely, candidates for both positions have been quick to point fingers at the culprit. Faced with a projected $20 million hole in the 2024 budget and little time to fill it, Woodward’s administration recently released a preliminary proposal to shore up the city’s finances. It includes a hiring freeze, increased property taxes, a reduction of positions in the fire department and a plan to pull from a traffic infrastructure fund to pay for police.
Woodward has blamed the pandemic, skyrocketing costs driven by inflation and a tight labor market, forces outside of her control that she argues she responded to as well as could be expected. She’s also criticized a significant rise in spending on the City Council’s operations.
Brown, however, has seized on the budget in her campaign: “For three years, Mayor Woodward has overspent the budgets she proposed and filled the gap with one-time funds,” Brown said during a July news conference.
How to boost the Spokane Police Department has become a primary focus for the City Council president election between Plese and Wilkerson, including plans to address ballooning overtime budgets and difficulty recruiting officers.
Woodward unveiled a major reorganization of the Spokane Police Department at the beginning of the year, shuffling positions toward patrol duties, particularly downtown, at the cost of dedicated neighborhood resource officer positions. Brown has criticized that reallocation, arguing that neighborhood officer and traffic enforcement positions should be filled.
Wilkerson has come under attack as anti-police, both by her opponent and by the network of political operatives supporting both Plese and Woodward. Wilkerson has bristled at this characterization, noting her record voting to increase funding for the police department.
Four years ago, one major topic in the race for mayor was the recently completed “road diets” that removed lanes from parts of Monroe Street and Sprague Avenue. A new plan to redesign Division Street after the completion of the North Spokane freeway is beginning to generate similar buzz.
And as city leaders decide how to address the budget, a plan to re-allocate money raised from tickets issued by traffic infraction cameras to the police budget from traffic safety projects also has generated controversy