From the outset, Spokane Mayor David Condon appeared to have the four votes necessary to move his 2013 budget through the Spokane City Council.
But foregone conclusions rarely dampen the cries of protest, and Monday night’s council meeting turned into four hours of argument over the city’s direction. It didn’t stop Council President Ben Stuckart from making proposal after proposal to restore a handful of the police and firefighter positions being lost. No dice. Those amendments failed along the same 4-3 split.
Inevitability also didn’t stop opponents of Condon’s budget from standing at a podium in front of council members and TV cameras and denouncing it.
Condon’s budget keeps spending flat and closes an approximately $10 million shortfall in the city’s general fund, which pays for police, firefighters, parks and libraries. Condon closed the budget gap through layoffs, eliminating open positions and closing and reorganizing city departments. It gets rid of 19 vacant police officer positions, which given how long it takes to train new officers, Police Chief Frank Straub has said the department could be five to 10 officers short in 2013 as cops retire or leave. The budget also cuts 23 positions at the Spokane Fire Department, which will force Fire Station 9 on the South Hill to lose its firefighting capabilities.
“We’re really cutting into the bone, and we’re going to experience that pain, in layoffs and service reductions even more,” said Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who along with Stuckart and Councilman Jon Snyder voted against the budget.
Proponents of the budget showed up too, though there were only a handful and they spoke multiple times to balance the chorus of union members, faith leaders and others speaking out against public safety budget cuts and the generous pay raises Condon’s budget gives a handful of department managers.
The conservative council members united largely behind one central argument: that over the years, the city has spent more and more on public employee salaries and gotten less and less in return.
And in the Great Recession, where people have lost “buying power” in the economy and have lower home values, Councilman Steve Salvatori said taxes have only gone up.
“It’s pretty obvious that some might be disappointed with how this budget shakes out,” said Salvatori, who supported the budget.