Category Archives: Public Utilities

Budget Hearings & Power contract for WTE: 11.6.17 and 11.13.17 Council Meetings Recap

City Council has been holding hearings on the Administration’s Proposed 2018 budget. On Nov. 4th, we heard from our Fire and Police Chiefs about hiring potentially 10 new officers, as well as continuing to focus on property crime/vehicle theft and other specific initiatives. The budget process is literally a year-long process that starts in the early part of the year when the Finance Dept closes the books on the previous year and begins to make projections for the next. Council discusses and then adopts Budget priorities by April and then the Mayor’s Finance staff begin the long process of engaging with each department throughout the spring and summer, developing a draft programmatic budget to deliver to Council and the community in August/Sept. Then Council begins weekly study sessions to ask questions and get clarity on changes and provide guidance back to the Administration. The Mayor delivers the final budget in October and Council then holds hearings in November and must vote to adopt a balanced budget by the end of December.

This year, because of the development of the Strategic Plan, Council has been able to engage on a whole new level, helping shape both operational investments as well as strategic one-time investments in top Mayor-Council strategic initiatives.

I wanted to note that on Nov. 4th, several individuals came down to comment on the need to share sexual harassment stories and call out leaders who may not be listening or supportive. Unfortunately, our 3 minute Council open forum is not the best opportunity for folks to share long stories…and it is important for the community to hear these stories! I have suggested that the Human Rights Commission provide time on its agenda when Councilmembers and citizens might be able to openly discuss these issues and hear from each other in a more conducive forum. I hope this will be scheduled soon.

I was out of town on a vacation and was not able to be present at the Nov. 13th City Council meeting. However, I do know that at my suggestion, Council voted to put off a decision on the water intertie agreement with Medical lake until next year to allow time for a study session on the aquifer and River to be held and more opportunity for Council to engage with stakeholders and River advocates on water conservation strategies, among other topics.

Also, Council passed an emergency ordinance (6-0, Waldref absent), to enter into a new 5 year contract with Avista to purchase energy generated by the Waste to Energy plant. The urgency was due to entering into the agreement before a new tariff was to be put in place, which would lessen the revenue to the City and to Avista.

It is my understanding that after several issues arose with the Mayor’s proposed 2018 budget, Council voted 6-0 to keep the hearings open and delay a vote on the budget until Monday, Dec. 11th to allow for time to get questions answered and resolve some concerns, mainly around the utilities budget.

So here we are

Why does the City of Spokane need a strategic plan? (Plus Oct. 23 and Oct. 30th Council meeting recaps)

The last 8 weeks have been the busiest in my almost 8 years on City Council. I guess it is trying to wrap up many issues, projects and policies I’ve been working on before the end of my Council term on Dec. 31st. The time is near!

Strategic Plan
One thing I am VERY proud to have been a part of over the past year is developing this City’s first Joint Mayor/Council Strategic Plan. (Yes, I’ve been known to carry copies of it in my purse and hand to folks I speak with at the grocery store). Here is a link to the Plan and a way for you to provide your input: StrategicPlan@spokanecity.org

Why should you care about (yet another) plan? Don’t we have a Comprehensive Plan that we just updated as a community? We have an amazing Comp Plan that sets out big goals and vision, but not a shorter term strategic or “action” plan that implements these ideas. I noticed this the first year after I was elected. Often times we were chasing our tail or reacting to needs rather than proactively working to develop solutions to our greatest challenges and investing in/marketing our greatest assets. Sometimes Council would be chasing an idea, sometimes the Mayor…but we weren’t always aligned. When Council and Mayor began to sit down and discuss where we had shared vision and outcomes in implementing our Comp Plan, we found a lot of commonality.

To advance greater prosperity and resiliency in our city, we need to build up on our assets and recognize where we trail behind, and then we need to work differently (regionally, across city departments, with neighborhoods and community groups and businesses) to get to the outcomes we all want and deserve — safer city, greater household income, increased connection to our city/neighbors, etc. So not only do we have to work differently (and budget differently), we need to set targets and performance measures and track our outcomes…and share this with our citizens. For me its about accountability, transparency and moving the needle. This takes focus, patience and constant communication with our community members.

So please, click on the link to see the visual document that shows the timeline and strategies and provide me your feedback. Did we miss anything? We’ve already aligned our Council committees to focus on the four goal areas. Teams are developing tactics and measures for each strategic area (if they haven’t already been identified). I’m excited to leave the Council and Mayor at the end of this year with this roadmap to guide the focus of future budgets and policy decisions.

Oct. 23rd and Oct. 30th Council Meetings
Last week, I was able to receive a scholarship to attend a truly amazing conference called Meeting of the Minds in Cleveland, OH (more to come on what I learned!). But because of this, I missed the Oct. 23rd City Council meeting. Luckily, there were few items of note on the agenda and one item did get deferred until Nov. 13th — consideration of a water intertie agreement with Medical Lake. After requests from community members for more time to review and engage on the proposed agreement, Council agreed and I have been spending significant time speaking with Spokane River stakeholders and getting their input.

This Monday, Oct. 30th, Council opened our first night of budget hearings. We heard from our Economic Development, Planning, Housing and Human Services Division. We also provided a forum to educate the community on revenue sources to the City (where does the money come from to invest in City services and how much of your property tax dollar/sales tax dollar actually goes to the City?). We kept the budget hearing open and next week we will be hearing from our Police and Fire chiefs to discuss changes for 2018 in their budgets. Council also voted 6-0 (CM Kinnear absent) to set a hearing for Nov. 20th regarding renewal of the Transportation Benefit District, which is currently funded with a $20 car tab to pay for residential street repair.

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.