Money was on the minds of the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday, as members narrowly agreed to put a 2.5-percent cost-of-living adjustment for nonunion city workers on hold for 2011.
Minutes later, the council loosened its purse strings and agreed to give nearly $159,000 to nonprofit charities and economic-development groups next year.
Cutting the COLA for 22 nonunion workers will save between $40,000 and $50,000, said City Manager Mike Jackson. Represented personnel, however, will get the originally planned and budgeted pay increase.
The idea came from Council Member Dean Grafos as the council was preparing to pass the first reading of its 2011 budget. The city is planning to spend $62 million next year, down from 2010 as there will be a fewer number of capital projects. The property tax levy will also be down about $100,000 as the council also agreed to a 1-percent decrease Tuesday.
The amendment to the budget measure was approved by the council in a 4-3 vote, with Council Members Bill Gothmann, Rose Dempsey and Gary Schimmels casting no votes. Council Members Brenda Grassel and Bob McCaslin, along with Mayor Tom Towey, voted yes with Grafos.
Grafos said he intends to suspend the COLA for just one year.
“A salary freeze won’t make me popular with city staff,” he said, but he wanted to decrease the amount of money the city will have to make use of about $500,000 in reserves next year. “2011 is a transition year, and this cut should apply the brakes.”
Dempsey said the cutting the COLA was “breaking faith” with city workers and would treat them like “second-class citizens.”
“It’s a travesty,” she said.
Grafos counted that he was elected to “represent the taxpayers first.”
“Mr. Grafos, the sky is not falling. It’s still up there,” Dempsey said.
Gothmann said he would not vote for the COLA suspension because “it was not needed” as the city will already be maintaining a 15-percent reserve and $24 million will be left in the bank headed into 2012.
“These goals were met in the current budget,” he said, adding that “citizens really get up in arms” over not treating workers properly.
Grassel said that private citizens are dealing with layoffs and pay freezes.
“We’d get kudos,” she said.
Schimmels said he would consider such a budgetary action if the economy continues to struggle next year. However, it’s too late in the process this year and the freeze won’t affect all city workers.
“That’s not fair,” he said.
Final approval of the 2011 city budget is expected at the Oct. 12 meeting.
The city had also budgeted $159,000 to give to outside agencies that do charitable work or attempt to bring new business to the region. After some haggling the council agreed to give funding to the Spokane Valley Arts Council ($5,000), Big Brothers Big Sisters ($3,000), HUB Sports Center ($3,500), Meals on Wheels ($7,500), Project Access ($20,000), Spokane Valley Partners ($28,000), Global Trade Services ($4,500), Greater Spokane Inc. ($51,000), ChangePoint ($2,500), International Trade Alliance ($13,500), Spokane Valley Heritage Museum ($2,000) and the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce ($18,000) for a total of $158,500.
Arne Woodard, a commercial real estate agent and member of the city’s Planning Commission, said that the city should re-evaluate its policy for giving to outside agencies.
“This is going to make me sound heartless, but we need to look at whether it should be a function of the city,” he said.
“Is it government’s role to be involved with outside nonprofit agencies?” she asked.
The council’s approval, however, was not unanimous. McCaslin said he preferred a formula that would have averaged the council members’ totals to all the agencies that requested funds.
“So I’m going to vote no,” he said.