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Spokane Valley council pivots, now eyes $1M in relief funds for public safety, police

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(The Center Square) – Spokane Valley city council members are considering allocating $1 million in federal pandemic-relief dollars toward public safety and police services.

That’s a pivot from last month, when the council voiced consensus agreement to request proposals from area nonprofits to fund behavioral health needs and efforts to stop human trafficking in the community.

During their meeting Tuesday evening, council members listened to separate presentations from representatives of Lutheran Community Services Northwest and The Jonah Project, nonprofits which assist survivors of sexual abuse and other traumatic crime, human trafficking, and at-risk youth.

Lutheran Community Services requested $539,607 to begin a three-program program; The Jonah Project sought $534,348 for a two-year project.

Neither proposal received majority support from the council’s seven members.

While acknowledging “the amazing work” provided by both agencies, council member Brandi Peetz suggested that the city’s funding be used for police and public safety services instead.

“We need an extra officer or two,” she said.

Mayor Pam Haley agreed, saying there was a “huge need” for public safety and the money could go toward a one-time capital outlay project, such as providing more campus space within the police department if officers are added.

The council’s decision was disappointing, Lutheran Community Services district director Shelly Hahn said afterward.

“LCSNW committed significant time and resources toward developing a program that we believed would be an excellent fit to meet the expressed needs of the City of Spokane Valley in their quest to address local behavioral health and anti-human trafficking needs,” Hahn said Friday in an emailed response to The Center Square.

“We are disappointed that the City Council decided not to invest in direct advocacy support to the community in this focused and client-centered way,” said Hahn.

The $1 million is a portion of $16 million in federal Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery funds received by the city during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2022, the council earmarked the $1 million for mental health services and learning support for youth programs. But in August of this year, city staff learned that Spokane County commissioners were fully funding a local student wellness program, freeing up the $1 million for other discretionary use by the city.

Last month, city manager John Hohman explained that the money could still be used to support other local mental health or behavioral services. At the time, councilmen Arne Woodard, Ben Wick, Tim Hattenburg and deputy mayor Rod Higgins suggested expanding services to also address human trafficking concerns.

There was consensus agreement to direct city staff to quickly seek potential service providers. Four were contacted and two, Lutheran Community Services and The Jonah Project, submitted comprehensive formal proposals that were heard – but not supported – on Tuesday.

Council members have had recent conversations about expanding Spokane Valley’s own police force, which receives additional services under a contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

During a presentation in November, deputy city manager Erik Lamb said staff was recommending a personnel increase in the police department, but no figures had been factored into the 2024 budget. Lamb said that should be part of a “comprehensive discussion” in the new year involving the council and police chief Dave Ellis to determine the department’s immediate and long-term staffing needs, related costs, and revenue sources.

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