The following is the text to Mayor Dean Grafos’ State of the City address, given at Spokane Valley Mall and CenterPlace on May 8:
Thank you for this opportunity to speak with all of you on the state of our city--the city of Spokane Valley. But before I start this discussion, let me start at the real beginning: the foundation of what I believe is our City’s true and solid success.
The real beginning starts with an essential core belief that most of us and our families follow each and every day: Budget wisely, spend carefully and only on what you can afford. Focus on needs, not wants. Save for a rainy day. Think ahead, long range. And, most of all, prioritize, prioritize and prioritize!
I am proud to stand here today and report that your elected representatives, working closely with our City Manager Mike Jackson and city staff have embraced this thinking to the core with outstanding results and with remarkable success. We have not only weathered but have triumphed over one of the worst recessions in our country’s history and are continuing on a path of economic prosperity.
We have held spending growth in our city to approximately 1 percent or less each year in the last five years and have not taken the state authorized 1-percent property tax increase for five years. This alone has saved our citizens over $1 million -- all this while other municipalities have faced cutbacks and declining revenues.
How have we achieved this path to a stronger economic footing? By adhering to our core values and working on our priorities and maintaining our structure as a lower cost, contract city without growing our municipal government unless absolutely necessary.
Some of the key aspects of our continued success:
Public safety: In the city of Spokane Valley, you, the citizens, have told us that public safety is your top priority. Your council and city manager take that message very seriously. The city of Spokane Valley Police Department, under the leadership of Chief
Rick Van Leuven, is working hard to make our community as safe as possible despite the challenges of a growing, modern and diverse community. Valley officers are arresting more prolific criminals, recovering more stolen property, and successfully reducing residential and vehicle break-ins and burglaries. In just one recent three-month period, Valley officers initiated 44 felony charges/arrests, 21 misdemeanor charges/arrests, issued 59 felony warrant arrests and 33 misdemeanor warrant arrests.
Public safety, at almost $24 million yearly is the single largest expenditure in the city’s general fund, exceeding all of our annual property tax collections by $11 million. Through careful, priority-based budgeting, we not only have been able to avoid cutting public safety services in these difficult times; but as of April, the city has authorized an additional two patrol officers and the Council has approved a list of improvements to the Valley Precinct building designed to improve efficiencies and further cut overhead costs.
No discussion of safety in our community would be complete without gratefully acknowledging the thousands of contributed hours by our dedicated SCOPE volunteers.
Through their efforts, they are some of the “eyes and ears” of what is happening in our community besides freeing more officers to be out on patrol. On behalf of the city, I say thank you!
But public safety does not just end with more officers on the streets. Your city, by contract with Spokane County, also works with Valley school districts to provide resource officers in our schools for our children. Also, flashing school safety beacons have been added to the majority of our grade and middle schools. We continue to participate in federal programs to add more beacons to our school zones and although these grants are needed and applied for, our commitment to safety includes funding for these beacons even when federal funds are unavailable.
A second critical element of our city’s continued and growing success is found in the direction and management of our public works programs and public works department, especially in the area of street maintenance, preservation and capital projects.
A well-maintained system of roads within our city not only provides a safe and efficient means of travel for our citizens and their families, but it puts our best foot forward in attracting new businesses and jobs to the Spokane Valley for our citizens.
2013 was an especially busy year. Again, living within our means, prioritizing spending, operating efficiently, and dedicating 6 percent of our general fund dollars to public works while still aggressively pursuing federal and state grants has placed the city of Spokane Valley in an enviable position in Spokane County and possibly in the state when comparing the condition and safety of Valley streets.
Public works completed 17 road improvement projects in 2013. Your city allocated almost $15 million to road projects. All of the 2013 improvement projects were completed through careful priority-based budgeting and no property tax increases to our citizens. In fact, even with reduced resources through these difficult times, as I mentioned earlier your City Council has not increased property taxes for the last five years, saving property owners over $1 million dollar and leaving those dollars in the hands of citizens and their families.
2014 will bring the replacement of the southbound Sullivan Road Bridge, the complete resurfacing of Sprague Avenue, our main business route and economic backbone of the city, the construction of missing sidewalk segments with ADA-compliant walks and the continued refinement and prioritization of the road preservation program. All of these projects are with a “pay as you go” philosophy.
My last major area for continued success concerns the overall philosophy at the forefront of our city. We are, at our core, business-friendly in that we believe that economic development creates a community of opportunity. This is the opportunity of job creation and expanding possibilities to support and surround us with the prosperity to move us competitively into this new century and yet maintain the many special qualities of Spokane Valley. By our focus on maintaining lean governance, careful budgeting, targeted spending, building infrastructure in roads, parks and regulations, we will attract many new companies to our city all within a very competitive geographical area surrounding us.
With the new jobs come the increased revenues to lighten the burden to taxpayers. With the incoming businesses come the new families to enjoy our space, our parks, our growing bike and pedestrian trails, our outstanding road system as well as a city that focuses and prioritizes keeping them safe in their homes and businesses. This then is our core and our focus.
And, I feel we have an impressive list to put forth that represents our successes because of our direction and priorities: 1,699 new business licenses issued in the city in 2013; 6,533 renewed business licenses; a new gateway entrance and sign at Thierman and Appleway; new Interstate 90 business route signs; the purchase of property for an expanded Balfour park; the moving forward on the University City Appleway Trail; a successfully renegotiated City Hall lease by the city manager, the finance committee and the finance director to save over $70,000 in the first year.
Your city council participated in at least 14 regional boards and committees in 2013, spending over 450 hours to ensure that The City of Spokane Valley has a voice in regionally important issues like solid waste, animal control, or the 14 interlocal agreements that provide lower cost essential services to our citizens.
Parks and recreation facilitated the new Balfour Park/library conceptual site plan project. They provided planning direction for the new Appleway Trail, resulting in our city receiving substantial grant dollars to begin construction. They are also updating the Police Precinct building to increase efficiencies. Parks and recreation also booked 812 events at the regional CenterPlace Event Center and welcomed more than 116,000 participants in 2013.
The city provided services and assistance to over 36,000 seniors in a variety of activities, hosting classes from health and well-being to ceramics, dancing and ping-pong.
The city attorney successfully litigated against violations of city regulations in adult entertainment.
The city drafted or negotiated 206 contracts on behalf of our city and citizens to ensure the best possible outcome for our citizens.
We prioritized expenditures on infrastructure enhancements like the planned Appleway Trail, adding bike lanes to our streets, ensuring transit service in our city is rider-friendly, and the previously mentioned ADA safe sidewalks to enhance the livability of our residents.
Again, improved infrastructure projects with safe and affordable neighborhoods continue as an incentive for young families seeking opportunity and good schools.
Some of the actual new businesses and new, expanded services that located recently in our city include: Providence Medical Center, Cancer Care Northwest, Total Wine, Buffalo Wild Wings, United Health Care CU, Valley Hospital improvements and remodel, expansion of 14 tenants in the industrial park, the new Wagstaff casting facility, Spokane Valley Tech, Ace Hardware, Tacoma Screw and a second new Wal-Mart. And, we are looking forward to the dedication of the new Car Max facility, a Fortune 500 company that has chosen Spokane Valley/Auto Row as its first location in the Northwest. It will bring jobs and a substantial increase in revenues to our city.
It has been the culmination of several years of reversing restrictive regulations imposed in the past on properties that would have prevented CarMax’s present location in our city, sending them to a neighboring, competitive municipality, possibly just across the street!
These are just a few of the exciting things happening in The City of Spokane Valley. As I mentioned, there were almost 1,700 new business licenses issued in our city last year alone. Our business-friendly policies are working. Sales tax revenues increased over 7.5 percent in 2013 even as some communities have seen less than hoped for growth. By our lean, efficient management, we have just been informed that our city’s already outstanding bond rating has been upgraded by Moody’s Investors Service. This rating can save our citizens thousands of dollars in financing costs on future capital projects.
Thus, by “getting our ducks in order” with our priorities of responsible budgeting, public safety, and infrastructure which includes roads, parks and regulations, combined with an overall welcoming climate will help move our community forward. We can never stand still—there is a fiercely competitive world right outside of our city limits.
We must be ready to meet the challenges of the future and provide livability and opportunity for our citizens and even more important, provide opportunities for all our young people.
And we, as your elected representatives, along with leadership of our city manager, our talented city staff and our excellent law enforcement will continue to work for the betterment of this very special community that we all love. In closing, I would like to thank all of the people working on behalf of our city for their excellent efforts and would like to also acknowledge the volunteers who also work tirelessly on our behalf.
Last, I would like to thank the citizens of Spokane Valley for allowing me to serve them.
It is a privilege. Thank you.