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Spokane Police's new contract could address staffing crisis, but also worsen budget challenges

A Spokane Police vehicle parked at the county public safety campus. Sheriffs and police chiefs have criticized police reform laws, especially laws limiting vehicle pursuits, saying they need the authority to detain people they think may have been involved in a crime.
Rebecca White | SPR
A Spokane Police vehicle parked at the county public safety campus in Spring of 2021.

The Spokane City Council has unanimously approved a three-year contract with the city's police department which will increase many officers pay by up to 7 percent.

City and union leaders say the contract will address the growing staffing crisis in the police department. A point driven home by Spokane Police Guild President Dan Duncan.

“We’re really hurting, we are in the middle of a staffing crisis that is much worse than people know,” Duncan said during the meeting last Thursday. “Things are rough. This gives us some hope. It gives us a path forward to start to recruit.”

Those raises will make the Spokane Police Department more competitive in its recruitment efforts, but will also likely worsen the city's growing budget deficit.

Before voting on the contract last week, city council members said inflation, new union contracts, homelessness spending and overtime costs have led to a growing shortfall in city government.

Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said the city has a budget deficit that could be up to $20 million. She said Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and city council now only have two options left, ask voters for more revenue, or start cutting costs.

“That's why I say a structural imbalance,” she said. “The revenues and expenditures are pretty far apart right now and how do we close that delta.”

In a discussion Thursday, city council members and a representative from Woodward’s office discussed putting a property tax vote on the November ballot. To qualify, the council would need to vote to authorize a ballot measure by August.

Mayoral spokesman Brian Coddington said the mayor’s office is meeting with council members to discuss the budget issue. He said any discussion of a potential levy is premature.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.