At last night’s meeting, City Council held more hearings on the 2013 proposed budget — with an emphasis on funding fire/EMS services and library services (see details below). We also discussed whether or not to take the 1% increase in property tax allowed by law. For the last 10 years since this property tax method was put into place, we have taken the increase…in good times and bad. 1% increase for the median household in Spokane would be $4.50/year. We are talking a very small household increase that amounts to around $400,000 that the community collectively contributes which could be spent on much needed public safety services — services that the Mayor’s budget proposes cutting.
Last night, Councilmember Snyder made a motion to take the 1% and direct it at public safety services at the city in 2013. The Council decided to postpone the decision at least until next week to allow for more conversation to occur…and perhaps a contract with the Police Guild to be negotiated. I’m not holding my breath that we’ll see a new contract in that amount of time…but I hope the Council will consider the consequences of not restoring some of our police and fire service (see more info on fire cuts below). I am receiving many calls from citizens to restore funding for police protection and property crime investigations. We will not be able to do that by cutting 21 positions in the police dept….not matter what the outcome of Guild negotiations might be. I would love your feedback on the property tax increase described above. Can you support it? Would you dedicate it to public safety? Contact me at email@example.com or 509-625-6275.
Let’s start with the library. The Library has a separate board of directors that directs its funding (which comes from the city’s General Fund). It is allowed to carry over dollars year-to-year that it does not spend (something unique within city funds). As you know, the Spokane Public Library system has been cutting back for years due to General Fund budget constraints. Several branches are only open half days and employees have either been laid off or positions eliminated via attrition for years. Two year ago, we saved the East Central Branch because of citizen outcry and a new contract negotiated with library employees.
We have come to the point when there is only enough money left in reserves to continue the current level of service for one more year. So, in 2013, you will not see any changes to current hours/types of service. However, by 2014, tough decisions will have to be made regarding both revenues and expenses…and a branch or two will again be in danger of closing. How much will is out there to continue funding current levels or service…or will we accept closing branches? What about increasing levels of library service? There has been rejuvenated discussion of a library levy lid lift to provide a small increase in revenue to accomplish a 2-4 year sustainability plan. During that time, the city could continue to lobby our state legislature to allow formation of a municipal library district that would be separate from the city and go out for funding and be directly accountable to the citizens for its budget (rather than fighting for the crumbs in the General Fund). The citizens could decide if forming a municipal library district would be a better vehicle for providing sustainable funding for our public libraries. In the meantime, I’m committed to having conversations with our citizens and Council and Mayor to create options for sustainable funding in the short term. This will require leadership and willingness from citizens to participate at a higher level in the support of libraries. Please contact me with your thoughts, input and your priorities for library service: firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-625-6275.
The other budget discussion last night related to fire/EMS services. The Mayor’s budget proposes eliminating 12 “on call” positions in fire. The new 4-year contract that was just signed with Local 29 Firefighters Union was not assumed in the proposed budget…which causes us to consider an additional $1M in cuts to the Fire Department for 2013. Now, the scalpel comes out and a fire station or a level off service provided by our fire dept must go. The proposal is to take the engine at Station 9 (18th and Grand) out of service (eliminating 12 positions) and move Medic 1 to Station 9 to still provide EMS service to the area. Impacts? A slower response time for the area previously served by Medic 1 (downtown, lower south hill) or increased calls for other teams to cover this area. Fire service coming from other stations to the Station 9 area or covering other areas could also result in slower response times. Other ideas have been floated, but in general the staffing of either one engine or one paramedic team would have to be eliminated to cover most/all of the budget deficit. What are your thoughts or concerns? I’m afraid there aren’t many options here…except that we could invest the property tax increase into the fire system and lessen the service impacts if that was a citizens’ priority.
I am planning a mobile office in the next two weeks to get your input on these and other important budget decisions for 2013. I look forward to engaging you in dialogue and making the best decisions I can on behalf of the citizens. I will also be available at the Logan Neighborhood Council meeting, Hillyard Neighborhood Council meeting and Chief Garry Park Meeting during the next month. Check my web calendar for times/dates. Thanks!