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Budgeting Outside the Box 

As Tax Day approaches, let's imagine ways local government could tighten its belt, too.

click to enlarge ALLEN DUFFY
  • Allen Duffy

Representatives from three major government entities announced budget cuts last week that are designed to move the Inland Northwest quickly and decisively out of the recession. The cost-saving measures, outlined by representatives from the City of Spokane, Spokane County and the Spokane Transit Authority at an historic joint press conference outside of Domini Sandwiches, hit almost every sector of the region’s budgets, from waste management to law enforcement.

“It’s big-government programs like these that spend our tax dollars without consequence,” said City Councilman Mike Fagan, detailing the first item on the agenda, the closure of the Waste-to-Energy Plant. Fagan called specifically for a wiser use of already available resources.

“I mean, do we not have a garbage-eating goat just hanging around Riverfront Park?” Fagan asked.

If the budget is approved, city sanitation workers would haul the region’s trash to the historic park in staggered waves, and small children would be encouraged to feed it to the goat for a nominal fee. (“The plan practically pays for itself!” Fagan proclaimed.)

The Spokane Transit Authority also announced major cuts. The bus system will be pared back to serve only the downtown core.

While South Hill residents have protested the bus cuts as “draconian and worthy of a strongly worded petition,” STA officials noted that no bus coming from the upper South Hill has been occupied since 2004.

The downtown route will now be limited to just three stops: at Kendall Yards, the University District and Boo Radley’s.

The City Council has, however, offered to supplement some of the axed routes using its own infrastructure.

“We’d like to just use the gondolas and the Riverfront Park tourist train as our primary metro system from now on,” Councilwoman Amber Waldref offered. “It’s five dollars, but you get a free ride on the carrousel so, you know, good deal.”

But the light-rail plan has already become tangled in red tape, as a majority of the council has indicated they would like to first poll the public before taking any major steps. A measure will appear on November’s ballot asking city voters if they would consider allowing city voters 50 years from now to consider a vote on a property-tax increase to partially fund half of the system.

The new budget also includes cuts to the Spokane Police Department that have the added benefit of addressing public outrage over recent cases. One provision would combine the elementary schools’ job shadow program with the police ombudsman office.

“Ever try to tell an 8-year-old a secret?” Councilman Steve Salvatori mused. “Guess what — it doesn’t take. It took the officers in the Zehm case three days before they came up with a story? With little Ricky around, that story’s gonna be out before recess.”

To keep emergency service costs down, the city also announced that it had devised an ambitious plan in which the KPBX and KSPS pledge drives would be combined with the 911 answering center.

“The volunteers answering phones will have a lot more to do,” said Council President Ben Stuckart, “when the person on the other end is reporting a possible OxyContin hold-up at the pharmacy.”

City resources and services are not the only recipients of new cost-cutting measures — major Spokane events are also under the knife.

“It’s absurd to pretend we can support the nation’s largest three-on-three basketball tournament and the nation’s largest foot race,” said Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.

In place of the two major events, the sole competition will be between local celebrities Randy Shaw and Sherman Alexie. The two will participate in a seven-mile run and a game of H-O-R-S-E. Commemorative T-shirts (designed by a specially formed citizen committee so as to ensure maximal flair and minimal usability) will cost $150.

Not even the budget itself was immune to cost-cutting measures, as became evident when Councilman Jon Snyder held a copy aloft. Instead of the usual detailed analysis, the city had hired Spokesman-Review writer Paul Turner to just compile it into random bullet points.

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