What a difference a year makes.
On June 20 last year, the Spokane Valley City Council met at the cabin of then-member Dick Denenny. The annual retreats at Spirit Lake had been a tradition since 2003, and city business like council goals and the upcoming snow-removal season were discussed before breaking for barbecue.
This year’s retreat, though, should have an entirely different flavor.
On Tuesday, this current incarnation of the council – made up largely of “Positive Change” candidates who, last November, usurped the majority of the previous body – will get down to brass tacks with city staffers over just one item: the budget for the city of Spokane Valley.
Budget talk had always been a mainstay of the summer retreats, but this time around number-crunching will be the only item on the agenda. And this year’s gathering will be held closer to home at CenterPlace, starting at 9 a.m. and lasting until around 4 p.m. in an upstairs classroom.
As always, city Finance Director Ken Thompson will give council members an “updated financial forecast” for Spokane Valley. And talk will likely be directed toward what has traditionally been referred to as a “problem statement” for the city: when general fund deficit numbers start showing up in the year 2013. When he’s gone before the council before, Thompson has explained that’s because of the general conservative nature of the city’s budget process, the reduced sales tax projections, and the decline in building permits and planning fees.
When campaigning, Positive Change candidates Tom Towey, Dean Grafos, Bob McCaslin, Brenda Grassel and incumbent Gary Schimmels leaned hard on targeting areas in the existing budget for cuts rather than looking at additional taxes for revenue. The opportunity for some of those ideas to be voiced will come next Monday. Members of the public are invited to attend, however if they have any ideas of their own they’ll have to keep them to themselves – no comments will be taken at that time.
On June 15, Thompson gave the council a primer of what to expect and a comparison of Spokane Valley’s budget to those of other cities. At that time, he said that sales taxes continue to be flat, however property taxes were slightly improving.
Mike Jackson, acting city manager, said that property taxes are what are used to cover the city’s public safety contract.
“It takes all of our property taxes and somewhat other of our revenues just to cover public safety,” Jackson said at the time. Last year, property taxes came in at just under $11 million – the cost of police, court and jail services is $22,062,268.
Budget reductions 3, 6 and 9 percent will be discussed Monday, along with their impacts. It’s also expected that an end balance of the city’s total budget of $100.3 million of 15 percent will be the goal by the end of the day.
On June 15, Jackson said the city could save about $1 million with a 3-percent reduction in its budget next year.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Grafos said when he heard the news. “It’s encouraging that we’re getting ahead of the curve and being proactive.”
Council Member Bill Gothmann mentioned that he had received questions from the public how the city had gotten into some of its debt. Thompson said that in 2002 – before Spokane Valley incorporated – the electorate approved an extra one-tenth of 1 percent tax for the Convention and Visitors Bureau to build the convention center expansion and improvements at the Spokane County and Expo Center and also the construction of CenterPlace, which cost $7 million. That – plus another $2 million in road projects that were transferred in the city – resulted in $9 million in debt which has already been paid off to some degree, Thompson said.
“I think (the county) was pleased to pass that off on us,” he said.
Whatever the council decides to do, it will likely not be the final set of numbers before approving the 2011 budget later this year. Thompson has said the numbers will certainly change.
Former City Manager David Mercier – when preparing last year’s budget – put it another way.
“I have no confidence in any of these numbers,” he said of the budget forecast. “What I do have confidence in is the trends.”