Category Archives: Public Utilities

Council urges State Legislators to Pass Capital Budget; Accepts Main Ave. Visioning Study: 8.28.17 Meeting Recap

City Council continues to meet in our Briefing Center while our Council Chambers are undergoing renovations. I realize the sound quality is not great for those watching at home. Please be patient with us, as we will be back in Chambers soon (hopefully Sept. 25th)! And at our 6pm Sept. 25th Council meeting, our goal will be to devote our entire session to a town hall discussion on homelessness. The City has been investing in a diversity of efforts to provide 24/7 shelter access, build permanent housing, and to discourage outdoor camping in public access areas. I have received a lot of input on this challenging issue in our community and there are many ideas to share. I invite you to come down to express your desires and hopes for our community as it relates to housing and addressing homelessness.

On Monday, August 28th, Council voted 6-1 (Fagan opposed) in support of a resolution I co-sponsored by Councilmember Beggs and Mumm, requesting the State Legislators adopt a Capital Budget. This is the longest time in the history of the State that we have gone without a capital budget and from what I hear, there is not a lot of disagreement about many of the capital items that would benefit Spokane. I have been working with legislators on both sides of the aisle who have been very helpful in getting projects for Spokane on the list. What there is disagreement about is an unrelated policy issue — the effects of the Hirst court decision that impacts how jurisdictions can issue permits for exempt wells and access to water. While the impacts of Hirst are concerning and the State should create procedures by which property owners in limbo can apply for water rights, it makes no sense to hold up a vote on a capital budget.

Council heard testimony from many people representing numerous organizations who are anxiously awaiting a decision from the State to help fund many worthy projects that will provide access to quality health care, justice, education and public trails and parks. CHAS and Providence sent representatives to speak out for the dental clinics they are working to open in the next year in Spokane (including one at the City-owned East Central Community Center) to serve low-income adults who have no access to care. Also, the YWCA is awaiting funding for its Family Justice Center, which serves victims of domestic violence. EWU is awaiting $30M for a new science building. Public Schools in Spokane and across the state are looking for state bonding dollars to assist them in updating classrooms and increasing space to meet McCleary requirements. And the City is awaiting critical matching dollars for trail and park projects in Peaceful Valley and the Southgate neighborhood. These are just a few of the over $100M in funds that would be invested in long-term outcomes in Spokane. I sincerely hope the Legislators will listen to their constituents and come together for another special session to pass a capital budget as soon as possible.

Council also voted 7-0 to approve the Main Ave. Visioning Study as a component of future downtown Spokane planning efforts. This study can be found on the City’s website (just search for “Main Ave Study”) and was a joint effort between property owners, business owners and the City to identify ways to revitalize Main St. in the future.

Council voted 7-0 in support of establishing a new “Senior or Disabled Residential Customer Credit” for utility services that becomes effective Jan 1, 2018. This is to provide yet another way to manage rising utility rates for those on a fixed income in our community. Those who qualify for the County property tax deduction would also qualify for this $10/month credit toward the utility bill. You can contact 311 for more information.

New 3-year utility rate schedule adopted: 7.24.17 and 7.31.17 Council Meetings recap

On July 24th, I presided over the Council meeting in CP Stuckart’s absence. Council took action on a variety of issues, including adopting a new Uber/Lyft MOU on a 5-1 vote (Fagan against, Stuckart absent). For the past several years, Council has taken an approach of creating an MOU with these transportation network companies to come to agreement on how they operate in Spokane rather than developing regulations similar to taxis. There are several reasons for this, but mainly because the State Legislature should but has not yet adopted state-wide regulations. Council has heard a lot of frustration from taxi drivers in Spokane about Uber and Lyft not honoring the terms of the MOU. After three years of waiting for the State to enact law around TNCs, Councilmembers Fagan and Stratton have said they are willing to work on moving forward regulations by the end of this calendar year. Because of this, Mr. Fagan made a successful motion to have this MOU be effective only until Dec. 31, 2017.

The other topic of interest on our agenda was the decision by Council whether to place a citizens’ initiative on the ballot that would aim to regulate certain types of coal/oil shipments through Spokane. Our citizens’ initiative process is pretty clear — if an initiative has enough signatures (independently verified by the County auditor), then Council can either pass the initiative directly into law or place it on the ballot for the voters to decide. Council voted 5-1 (Fagan opposed, Stuckart absent) to place this initiative on the ballot, as it had received the necessary minimum number of voter signatures.

The focus of our July 31st Council meeting was a hearing on a three-year rate structure for water, sewer and garbage utility services. The proposal was to increase each of these rates by 2.9% for the next three years. As Chair of the Public Works Committee, I can verify that Council spent the last 3 months discussing these rates and suggesting changes to the Administration. It was a very collaborative process that resulted in several adjustments and changes. Council voted 7-0 to approve the rates. We continue to look for ways to ensure equity and affordability in our rates. Council will vote in several weeks to establish a Senior/Disabled credit for those who qualify under the County reduced tax program in order to ensure greater equity for those on a fixed income in our community.

Council votes to confirm Mike Ormsby as City Attorney; Adopts Budget Priorities: 5.16.17 and 5.22.17 Council meetings recap

On Monday, May 15th, Council considered the appointment of Mike Ormsby, our previous U.S. Attorney for Eastern WA, as our new City Attorney. Unfortunately, I caught a very nasty bug and was home sick. I did manage to call in for about an hour of the City Council meeting and did vote to confirm Mr. Ormsby (4-3 – Fagan, Mumm and Beggs opposed). We heard testimony from a variety of perspectives, pro and con. Mr. Ormsby is born and raised here in Spokane, was the youngest person ever elected to the Spokane School Board, and has had a long, successful career in private practice and as the U.S. Attorney. Some concerns were shared about his role as an attorney in the River Park Square loan arrangement with the City. Also, an attorney who sued his office related to discrimination. Others who have worked with him praised his leadership and mentorship.

I spoke with Mr. Ormsby previous to the vote about these concerns and he addressed them thoroughly with me. I am confident he can lead our office of attorneys very effectively and ensure Council and Mayor communicate frequently about potential litigation so we can avoid conflicts. I welcome Mr. Ormsby to City Hall!

On May 22nd, Council adopted its 2018 Budget Priorities (6-1, Fagan opposed), which can be found here. I worked hard with the Councilmembers over the past two months to sponsor a prioritized list of priorities to kick off conversations with the Mayor. This has been an effective tool the past two years in finding alignment and making the budget process fairly smooth for citizens, Council and staff.

This year, we prioritized investments that align with the City’s draft strategic plan, which focuses on three areas: Safe, Healthy and Compassionate City, developing our Urban Advantage, and creating Sustainable Public Infrastructure. Highlights include hiring additional police personnel; ensuring 24/7 homeless shelter funding with community partners; developing revitalization plans to spur private development in key business centers and corridors; and increasing funds for improved snow removal and street repair.

Our water system plan calls for us to do an annual review of applications for water service outside our retail water service area. We had eight applications for service. After holding a public hearing and hearing from property owners and staff, we approved two based on our water system and Comp Plan policies.

Finally, we held public hearings on two moratoriums that were put into place in March 2017: one on demolition permits in Browne’s Addition and one on relocating billboards to Centers and Corridor/Historic Zones. Both these moratoriums were approved by Council (6-0, Mumm absent) and will be in place for 6 month while the community and staff can study the code and bring forth changes as needed.

East Sprague BID and St. Paddy’s Day Merriment: Feb. 27th and March 6th City Council Recap

City Council held a fairly short meeting on Monday, February 27th. We had a long list of administrative items to approve at our 3:30pm session due to the President’s Day holiday the previous week. At our 6pm Legislative session we approved a few minor items, including the appointment of Crystal Marchand as the City’s new Budget Director. Crystal has worked hard to integrate the city’s capital and operational budgets over the past year and I look forward to working with her in this new role.

The other legislative item of note was approving the new role assessment for the East Sprague Business Improvement District (BID). The businesses last year voted to tax themselves a small amount to be used for promotions of the District (the area centered around Napa and East Sprague), clean up, safety and security. I am very impressed by how well the East Sprague Business Association (ESBA) is starting to manage the dollars and invest in the District, which will soon be undergoing a complete street rehabilitation in April of this year.

On March 6th, I was pleased to chair the City Council meeting while Council President Stuckart was on a vacation out of the country. We welcomed our Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Haran Irish Dancers to kick off St. Paddy’s week (month?) in Spokane. Our legislative agenda was very lite. One item of note was (re)creating the position of Bridge Inspector at the City. Former Streets Director, Mark Serbousek, will be filling this role and I look forward to working with him in this new capacity. Mark served previously as the Bridge inspector and brings a lot of experience to the table as we look to replace and redeck many bridges over the next 5 years.