By Chris Cargil
Taxpayer money is apparently considered unlimited by those on the seventh floor of Spokane City Hall. This is where the size and cost of the Spokane City Council budget has exploded and is now unsustainable.
Less than ten years ago, 13 people worked in the Spokane City Council office at a cost of less than $1 million. Today, the number of full-time employees has increased to 22 and the cost to taxpayers has increased by 175%. No one in Spokane can honestly say that the work produced by the city council is better. In fact, in many ways it’s worse.
In an age of inflation, one can certainly expect some increases. But such drastic increases in such a short time are not easily explained.
Much of the increased spending is aimed at providing salaries and benefits for new positions, at a time when families are struggling to keep their own jobs and pay higher municipal taxes.
For example, city council now has a budget officer, director of policy and government relations, senior executive assistant to the chair of council, director of communications and community engagement, manager of homeless initiatives Shelter, a Manager of Neighborhood Connectivity Initiatives, a Manager of Sustainability Initiatives, a Manager of Equity and Inclusion, and a Manager of Intergovernmental Affairs.
With a salary range of $55,917 to $135,991 per year, most positions pay significantly more than the median household income in Spokane.
The council is the legislative body. It plays an important role in running the town, but the town charter says the council should be part-time.
Due to a bloated budget, in 2014 City Council members Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori sought to ask citizens if they wanted the council to be part-time or full-time. The proposal was an effort to gauge citizens’ appetite for higher salaries, benefits and the size of the council’s office itself.
However, the city council at the time rejected the effort, saying there were “bigger things to worry about”. Councilwoman Candace Mumm added, “I have no interest in making it a full-time job.”
A few years later, board members got a 44% raise.
Today, working families, small business owners, and nonprofits are struggling to balance their budgets, while Spokane City Council’s budget is having no difficulty.
Spokane City Council President Breann Beggs told a gathering of hundreds of Rotarians last year that “we live in a time of limited government resources.” But Spokane city leaders don’t act like that.
Taxpayers deserve to know their burden is increasing so the Spokane City Council Office can cash in.
Chris Cargill is the East Washington Director of the Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization based in Seattle. Online at washingtonpolicy.org. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously organized fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and serve on the organization’s board of directors.