Verner predicting additional $2M shortfall in Spokane budget

SPOKANE - Spokane Mayor Mary Verner briefed the city council Tuesday that the city?s budget woes are even deeper than previously predicted, which could mean deep cuts to police and fire services in the coming year.

The bottom line is that the city is facing an additional shortfall of up to $2 Million for this year, while the budget shortfall prediction for 2011 has been raised from $10 Million to $12 Million.

"The news is dismal. We are facing the same problems as the nation, the state, and other local governments," Verner said in a written statement e-mailed to the local media.

The new shortfall is above and beyond a previous $2 Million shortfall covered by an executive order from earlier this year that froze hiring and put restrictions on spending.

Part of the reason for the changing outlook on the General Fund budget was that city leaders had planned for ?a modest recovery over 2009.? However the city has seen a downward trend in income from sales, utility and property taxes.

?Households are not spending as much and we are not collecting as much tax because they are not spending as much,? Mayor Verner said Wednesday.

The General Fund covers many essential services including police, fire, streets as well as parks and libraries. All have felt the sting of cost-cutting measures due to shrinking budgets but Mayor Verner suggested that ?across-the-board reductions of 6 to 9 percent are possible? and that would be two to three times more than initial reductions proposed in Verner?s 2010 budget.

That initial 2010 budget included cutting 44 positions; if cuts as deep as nine percent are possible that could mean theoretically as many as 132 positions could be eliminated.

The mayor has asked each city department for a line item budget but since there have already been major cuts there aren't a lot of places money can be squeezed out of.

?There is nothing left to cut except delivering of essential services,? Verner said.

What that translates into is that Spokane residents may see a decrease in services like parks, streets and libraries but the mayor says they won't see an increase in taxes.

?Everybody in the community is tightening their belts people really don't have the ability to absorb a lot more expense,? Verner said.

However, the city council is considering putting an additional $20 fee on vehicle tabs, something they don't need voter approval to do. That proposal isn?t sitting well with Spokane residents like Don Young.

?It?s taxation without representation as far as I'm concerned. They got to cut their own expenses; that is what we do at home,? Young said.

The council is also considering, adding a tax on pay parking lots; the owners of downtown lots would be taxed more per space and would most likely pass the cost onto the consumer.

Verner emphasized that it?s important that residents not play the blame game and know the city is trying to get a handle of what she calls a thunderstorm.

?This isn't something that the city wanted or is it something to place blame on the City of Spokane,? she said.

KXLY4's Tori Brunetti contributed to this report