The City of Spokane is bracing for its fifth consecutive year in the red as Mayor David Condon presented a budget proposal that attempts to address a $10 Million shortfall.
His proposal includes elimination of the arts department and the weights and measures department as well as cuts to the parks department. Additionally, 65 vacant positions that are currently vacant won't be filled and 35 employees will be laid off.
During his press conference Wednesday, however, Condon made it clear his top priority is public safety and that he wouldn't cut positions in either the fire and police departments. Unfortunately, those departments are stretched so thin already and vacant positions in those departments won't be filled in the mayor's proposal.
"We will eliminate vacant positions in both the large public safety departments," Condon said.
The city will slash 18 vacant patrol officer positions, two civilian positions and one detective.
"If somebody would say would you like more officers, of course we would like more officers, I think the community will like more officers but of course we have to look at what we can afford," acting Police Chief Scott Stephens said.
However, according to the city budget proposal, these reductions in personnel may result in a "delayed response to non-emergency calls with the potential for the possible elimination of response to certain non-emergency calls like noise complaints."
"If the volume of calls for service go up next year and we still have the same amount of officers we have now that may make us cause an adjustment on how we respond," Chief Stephens said.
The police department isn't the only department expected to do more with less. The fire department is also feeling the pains of the budget..
"We don't have a lot here, we rely heavily on our people to be able to do super human things and that gets really difficult," Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said.
The budget proposal cuts nine vacant relief firefighter positions.
"It may result that, since we have such a finite amount of overtime left, in station closures and station brown outs and decreased level of services," Schaeffer said.
But in the end, both departments stress that they'll continue to do their best with what they have.
"We are spread very thin but we are still meeting our goals and we are still providing the best service we can spread thin," Schaeffer said.
The Parks and Recreation Department, facing a $1 Million shortfall of its own, is going to be making some changes in its services. Pool hours and funding for senior centers are among the proposed cuts to the city's parks and rec department.
Leroy Eadie, director of parks and recreation, said with people spending less on classes and the general budget at a stand still he's forced to make major cuts.
Those cuts include eliminating eight positions, reducing funding to three senior centers by $60,000 and scaling back on advertising and marketing. Also, starting next summer, hours at city pools will be reduced by two hours three times a week.
"Overall I would say they are strategic and what we did, we didn't do across the board cuts we had done that in previous years. The park board was very interested in doing something that was strategic and long lasting, so that if we make these reductions they will help us this year, next year and the year after," Eadie said.
The total operating budget for parks and rec is $17.6 Million. The parks board, which doesn't need city council approval, plans to adopt its budget in September.
While departments are being cut or shuttered altogether in an attempt to cut the red from the budget, there is a silver lining forming in the pockets of city residents.
Condon's budget is designed to leave money in people's pockets by foregoing the expected annual property tax increase and it also limits utility rate increases to three-and-a-half percent.
The typical household will pay about $3.60 more per month, compared to the $12 a month increase the city previously projected.
One thing that won't be cut in 2013 is Mayor Condon's salary. The mayor agreed previously to take just $100,000 of salary for 2012, because that's what was already previously budgeted for the position. In 2013, however, he will take his full pay as mayor, which is $169,000 a year.
The mayor plans to present the budget to city council in early October.