Public safety, pavement preservation part of Spokane Valley’s 2024 budget

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(The Center Square) – Public safety, pavement preservation, economic development, and responding to housing and homeless needs in Spokane Valley are among the priorities identified in a $106.4 million budget for 2024 approved by city council members Tuesday evening.

Inflation was a factor in preparing the new budget, City Manager John Hohman said in an introductory message.

“This has been another challenging year of record inflation, continued increased energy and food prices, ongoing world conflicts, and uncertainty about where the economy is headed,” Hohman wrote. Nonetheless, he said the city “continues to follow (a) sound financial path … and adhered to key conservative fiscal policies” while financing an “aggressive capital improvement program.”

Under state law, cities and counties in Washington must annually approve a balanced budget by Dec. 31 for the coming year. Over the ensuing 12 months, the budgets are periodically amended to reflect new revenues and expenditures.

City Finance Director Chelsie Taylor and Deputy City Manager Erik Lamb summarized provisions of next year’s budget during a public hearing Tuesday.

Taylor said the city’s number of full-time-equivalent employees will increase by four next year, from 112 to 116. Two additional positions are planned for stormwater system work and two maintenance workers in the parks and recreation department, she said.

Lamb said city staff is also recommending a personnel increase in the police department, but no figures are currently factored into the new budget. Lamb said that should be part of a “comprehensive discussion” involving the council and police chief Dave Ellis to determine the department’s immediate and long-term staffing needs, related costs, and revenue sources.

Council members Ben Wick and Brandi Peetz felt increased traffic patrol was an initial priority, saying that speeding motorists are a common complaint heard from citizens.

In his budget message, Hohman noted that Spokane Valley has not significantly increased its police staff since 2007, while the city’s population has grown from about 87,900 residents to over 107,000 since then. The city does have an ongoing contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for additional law enforcement services.

The city has 29 separate budget funds, many of which are proprietary or dedicated accounts. The general fund – the city’s primary discretionary financial account – has estimated revenues totaling $62.3 million next year. That’s a 10.45% increase over 2023, while expenses are expected to increase by 7.83%. The fund’s primary expenditure – $35.2 million, or 61% – will go to public safety including law enforcement and related criminal justice expenses.

Separately, about $800,000 has been allocated from the general fund for 18 different non-recurring capital expenditures. They range from $152,500 for information technology costs to $10,000 for an access gate.

Taylor said the city is currently projecting an overall ending general fund balance of $41.4 million in 2024. That’s about 71.4% of recurring expenditures for the year, and above a minimum 50% goal to meet cash flow needs for a six-month period.

The new budget appropriates $19.4 million for other capital expenditures. Those include nearly $8.8 million for street projects, another $3.5 million for “pavement preservation” maintenance, $3.15 million toward “railroad grade separation projects,” and $220,000 to park projects. In coming months, the city expects to receive about $9.5 million in state and federal grant revenues to offset nearly half of those capital outlays.

Other significant budget appropriations for 2024 include $9.8 million to the general street fund, nearly $5.5 million to a stormwater management fund, $1.06 million to aquifer protection, and $1.2 million toward tourism promotion. Primary estimated revenue sources include the city’s share of state-collected motor vehicle fuel tax ($1.95 million), telephone tax ($900,000), real-estate excise taxes ($3 million), lodging taxes for tourism promotion and facilities ($2.1 million), stormwater management fees ($5.6 million), and aquifer protection area fees ($500,000).

Earlier this year, Spokane Valley formed a homeless services/housing task force that is expected to prepare an action plan for submission to the state Department of Commerce next year. If the plan is accepted and approved, it would qualify the city to an estimated $640,000 for services based on the city’s share of a state-mandated fee on real-estate transaction documents filed with the Spokane County Auditor’s Office.

Last month, the council also approved formation of a local transportation benefit district. The new TBD is a separate governmental entity with a separate budget, but the council serves as its governing body. Discussions are underway on possible funding mechanisms – likely a proposed car tab fee or sales tax hike – which may be subject to future public vote. If ultimately approved, revenue could be dedicated to street maintenance and improvements, thereby reducing or eliminating several million dollars in subsidy transfers from the city’s general fund.

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