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Spokane city budget receives international recognition despite looming deficit

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(The Center Square) – The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, or GFOA, has announced their Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program winners, and Spokane’s budget made the cut.

The information page for the award on the GFOA website states that to “earn recognition, budget documents must meet program criteria and excel as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide, and communication tool.”

“We submitted our application materials with the intent of accessing the collective experience of budget officers nationwide and are honored to be recognized by our peers,” said Spokane’s Chief Financial Officer Tonya Wallace in a news release accompanying the announcement.

That collective experience comes from GFOA’s more than 20,000 members consisting of representatives of cities, municipalities and government organizations that have joined since its inception in 1906.

“Winning this national award from their peers is a tremendous honor for our budget team,” said Mayor Nadine Woodward in a video statement released after the award was announced. “They put an incredible amount of work into the 2023 budget.”

The preliminary version of that budget was presented to the City Council on the first working day of October 2022. It was then revised by the City Council and the Woodward administration in November, allowing for a period of public comment.

The final version of the budget was voted on by the council and adopted in December.

“This national award recognizes our team for delivering on our first obligation to produce a budget that meets the needs of the taxpayers of Spokane,” Woodward said in a statement.

The GFOA’s website doesn’t list any criteria for the award that are related to the execution of the document; the award is about how well the budget as a document conveys its intent.

With the Woodward administration weeks behind on its pre-year budget audit for 2024, and numerous parties between the administration and the City Council agreeing on a budget deficit adjustment of approximately $9.5 million, things are looking less optimistic than when the document was forged last fall.

Additionally, according to GFOA’s own accounting recommendations, and Spokane’s municipal code, the city’s general fund is currently $50 million in the red.

Despite this, the city received a “proficient” rating from the GFOA as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide and a communications tool.

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