Spokane’s 2021 budget discussions continue with focus on affordability, public safety

SPOKANE, Wash. — The City of Spokane is trying to figure out how to restore its economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Nadine Woodward and the Spokane City Council are shifting their priorities within the budget to meet the city’s basic needs, but they’re millions of dollars apart with discussions still in the early stages.

Nothing of this budget will be official until the end of this year, but the big takeaway from these discussions is the lack of spending from people in Spokane.

In 2019, the city made about $7.5 million from things like sales and utility taxes, among other things.

With a record number of people losing their jobs this year, that money hasn’t been coming in and that’s taken away $3.2 million in revenue from the city.

“Those are indications to us that the community, our citizens, don’t have the financial resources or aren’t comfortable spending those resources right now because of the uncertainty,” City spokesman Brian Coddington said.

The 2021 budget will likely include three new dispatch positions for the Spokane Fire Department and more money for Spokane Police. That’s coming from the tax hike voters approved last year.

The city also plans to spend money on homelessness, street improvement, Spokane’s parks and libraries.

“The budgetary impacts of the pandemic are going to be felt in ’21, in ’22 and potentially beyond,” Coddington said.

The mayor’s initial budget would require the city to use at least $5 million in reserves.

If you add in the council’s priorities for the budget, the city would need about $10 million in reserves, according to Coddington.

But the City Council does not plan on approving any amount of reserve money being spent in next year’s budget because of the pandemic.

“It looks like it’s going to last a lot longer, so we’re reluctant to spend much in reserves, because we don’t know how many years we’re going to have to stretch those reserves to,” City Council President Breean Beggs said.

That would mean the two sides would have to decide where more cuts can be made to create a balanced budget.

Mayor Woodward also does not want to add anything new to the budget during these tough times for the economy, such as an Office of Civil Rights, which the Council is pushing for.

“Basic civil rights protection for people is really important, so it’s a fundamental function of government,” Beggs said.

The city is looking for community feedback with this budget. They’re encouraging residents to email or call their representative on the city council.

The two sides will now continue to discuss the next steps, and Mayor Woodward is expected to submit her official budget proposal in early November. The Council will then have until December 31 to approve the budget.