Council considers cuts and adjustments to Spokane mayor’s budget proposal
Spokane City Council has carefully considered Mayor Nadine Woodward’s 2022 budget proposal and has sharpened its fiscal ax.
The three-member council budget task force proposed to cut several key positions created in Woodward’s budget, including a deputy city administrator.
In a note to administration and the rest of council this week, the budget task force challenged several elements of the mayor’s budget, including his spending of around $ 20 million with no identified source of funding.
The board discussed the budget proposal in a study session Thursday and the recommendations of its own budget working group, made up of board members Lori Kinnear, Betsy Wilkerson and board chair Breean Beggs.
Mayor Nadine Woodward’s 2022 budget proposal totals $ 1.1 billion and calls for several key investments, including $ 4.3 million for the construction of a new low-barrier homeless shelter.
But several issues need to be addressed before the board approves the budget, which is expected to take place on December 13.
“In response to the shortfall in 2020, we are trying to free up more money for the general fund,” Beggs said Thursday.
New and vacant positions
The council task force opposed a budget that adds more than 50 new positions at city hall as projected revenues declined by around $ 20 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He proposed to cut two new positions in human resources, three in the finance department and two in the town hall.
The mayor’s budget calls for the addition of an assistant under city administrator Johnnie Perkins, with a salary and benefits totaling $ 197,000. It also employs a legislative policy advisor and deputy mayor, each with a salary and benefits of $ 78,492.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the mayor’s office positions had been added to help manage the “ever-increasing volume of work that lies ahead”, both due to regular obligations and to those related to COVID-19.
“To be able to respond to all of these requests in a timely manner requires us to add certain items to the budget,” Coddington said.
The council seemed almost unanimous in rejecting these positions during Thursday’s discussion.
“I am concerned about this significant increase in staff there without the identified funding source,” Wilkerson said.
City Councilor Karen Stratton has said she will not support the creation of more senior positions in city government.
“We really have to focus on what every household in Spokane is focused on, and those are the basics,” Stratton said.
Beggs said he would not support the addition of administrative posts until key vacancies are filled, including the warden, housing and social services director and a political adviser post.
The administration plans to fill those positions, Coddington said, and believes it still needs more hands on deck to keep the operation running smoothly and avoid burnout. As council focused on the dozens of new items in the budget, Coddington stressed that the mayor’s proposal was “based on priorities.” If a position has been added, it is because a department or division director deemed it necessary.
The working group also wants to eliminate several vacant positions in the town hall, including a deputy to the city prosecutor and a deputy to the prosecutor.
As with the new positions, Coddington said vacancies have been left in the budget because the administration’s intention is to fill them.
American rescue plan
About $ 20 million in spending in the budget went unrecorded. The administration has argued it will negotiate the source of funding for these efforts with the council after opposing Woodward’s use of US bailout funds in the preliminary budget.
But Beggs argued Thursday that unfunded spending shouldn’t be in the budget at all. As an example, he highlighted eight positions that the administration offered to help clean up the city center. These could be paid for with unallocated reserves from the Solid Waste Department, he said.
This week, Woodward formally asked the council to approve $ 19.4 million in spending with US bailout funds, including $ 7.2 million for emergency homeless shelters and nearly 9 million dollars for police and fire equipment.
“These are one-time expenses that qualify and meet the very definition of what the ARP is supposed to do,” Coddington said.
The task force also found that the budget made no money for employment contracts due to be settled in 2022 – and included increases for city employees. Unions with unsettled contracts include Spokane Firefighters Local 29, whose agreement expired at the end of 2019.
Those deals could represent about $ 3 million in additional spending next year, according to council budget staff.
The council’s task force also opposed the administration’s use of tax revenues to support affordable housing projects that were instead allocated to homeless services.
Beggs proposed to find other sources of revenue, including the real estate excise tax, to pay for homeless services.
“This community, at least the one I hear about, wants this affordable housing, so I totally agree that these funds should be used for affordable housing,” Stratton said.
Coddington said the administration’s intention was to find more stable sources of revenue, such as sales taxes, to fund homeless services, many of which are supported by grants. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from, as long as homeless services are paid for.
“A lot of it was made on a grant basis, which is great because it relies on outside dollars, but the downside is that it becomes more of a patchwork approach to fund something,” Coddington said.
A council press release that described Thursday’s study session as a “conversation with the mayor” on the budget briefly caused some friction this week. As Woodward pointed out on social media, she was never invited to the study session.
At the start of the meeting, Beggs apologized for the press release, clarifying that the meeting was only for board members.
Both branches of government appear to be moving forward, however, as Coddington said the administration’s budget team is meeting with council budget staff to resolve their differences in the coming days.