Civil rights, fire, homelessness and more: Key takeaways from Spokane's new $1 billion budget

<p><p>The Spokane City Council spent Monday placing the finishing touches on the 2022 city budget, and Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration spent Tuesday digesting them.</p></p><p><p>As the fiscal dust settled, the impacts of the $1 billion budget came into focus.</p></p><p><p>The spending plan was the product of months of negotiation between Woodward and council members, who couldn’t come to terms on everything but had few major disagreements about what the city should spend its money on.</p></p><p><p>“We got a lot of things we wanted,” Woodward said. “It was a collaborative effort.”</p></p><p><p>A breakdown of major points in the budget:</p></p><p><h3>Office of Civil Rights</h3></p><p><p>The City Council heeded the calls of human rights advocates and established an independent office of civil rights, equity and inclusion.</p></p><p><p>The mayor’s budget proposal funded Civil Rights Coordinator Jerrall Haynes, but the council took action Monday to fund two additional support staff for Haynes. It fell short of the six staff members proposed by the city’s Human Rights Commission, but was still a sizable expansion of the city’s fledgling civil rights work.</p></p><p><p>“The need for our community members to have a place to report issues and access help when needed has been well documented,” Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said in a statement following Monday’s vote.</p></p><p><p>Woodward noted that her initial budget proposal had included a new diversity officer within the city’s human resources department, but the council deleted that position and used it to fund an extra position in its new civil rights office.</p></p><p><p>Council members have pushed for a civil rights office in Spokane for years, but Woodward questioned the pace with which the council moved to establish a civil rights office on Monday.</p></p><p><p>“We just got our civil rights officer in place and he’s figuring out the position,” Woodward said. “I know council wants to move a lot quicker on setting up an entire office, but I think there’s some things we need to do to get there. We’ll be working with them on that.”</p></p><p><h3>Mayor’s office</h3></p><p><p>The council nixed Woodward’s proposal for a deputy city administrator (salary and benefits totaling $196,953) and legislative policy advisor ($78,492).</p></p><p><p>Council members decided in recent weeks that they should not fund new positions in the mayor’s office until she fills positions that are currently vacant, including an advisor position. Some members also opined that this was an inopportune time to expand top-level staffing.</p></p><p><p>Woodward was dismayed by the council’s decision, arguing the positions would help ensure the continuity of operations if staff members leave or are reassigned. When former City Administrator Wes Crago left last year, then-Public Works Director Scott Simmons stepped in, leaving a hole in his absence.</p></p><p><p>“It’s a huge body of work for one person, with all the divisions and directors that we have,” Woodward said of the city administrator. “(For) the internal operations of an organization this big to fall on one person, it’s a lot.”</p></p><p><h3>Vacant positions</h3></p><p><p>The council saved money by slashing a number of long-vacant positions from City Hall, including an assistant city attorney position with salary and benefits totaling $177,076.</p></p><p><h3>Housing or criminal justice?</h3></p><p><p>Homelessness is a key issue for both the mayor and city council, and both agreed on the need to fund a new low-barrier shelter with $2.8 million – the question boiled down to where the money would come from.</p></p><p><p>The council agreed Monday to pull funding from the city’s criminal justice fund, not sales tax revenue earmarked for affordable housing projects as proposed by Woodward’s budget.</p></p><p><h3>Ombudsman Commission</h3></p><p><p>The city’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission received a late $24,000 boost to its budget for training of its members, who are responsible for overseeing the city’s police ombudsman.</p></p><p><p>Commission members had lobbied the council for funding in recent weeks, arguing that their training budget had been reduced in both 2020 and 2021.</p></p><p><p>They noted that in-person training has not been available for the commission’s two newest members during the COVID-19 pandemic.</p></p><p><p>The police ombudsman is the city’s independent police watchdog tasked with certifying investigations into police misconduct, publishing findings and making recommendations for changes to police policy.</p></p><p><h3>Fire Prevention</h3></p><p><p>The council approved the mayor’s request for eight full-time positions in fire prevention services, at a cost of $1.4 million, aimed at speeding up construction inspections and plan reviews. The city also expects to be able to increase the number of inspections of commercial properties, helping to reduce fire risk.</p></p><p><p>The effort was funded through an increase in permit fees earlier this year.</p></p>