by Pia K. Hansen and Cara Gardner

It's Your Money -- SPOKANE -- The city is getting ready to make the budget for 2004, and as part of that process Mayor John Powers wants to hear from you.

If you're tired of potholes, think your local swimming pool needs an overhaul or don't understand why the police won't come out when you find a drug kit in your backyard, now is a good time to speak up.

The city has a $120 million general fund, of which about 72 percent goes to police, fire, parks, street maintenance and libraries. Every year decisions need to be made as to how much money is going to be spent on what.

"Budgeting taxpayer money for essential city services is the most important thing we do," says Powers. "We want to provide our citizens with information on the budget and then listen to them. We want them to know where their tax dollars are going, and we want to know if they agree with the priorities that have been set."

The first of the budget discussions will be held at the city council chambers on Monday, Aug. 4, at 5 pm. On Aug. 5, the budget talk will be at East Central Community Center at 6 pm. On Aug. 6, the meeting is at West Central Community Center at 6 pm. Finally, the last is at the Northeast Community Center on Aug. 7 at 6 pm.

The mayor and the council president are scheduled to be at all the budget meetings, along with those members of the city council who can make it.

State of the Union -- SPOKANE -- About 200 dietary and housekeeping employees at Deaconess and Valley Hospital will vote today, July 31, on whether to join the Service Employees International Union District (SEIU) 1199NW. In May, Empire Health Services (EHS), which runs both Deaconess and Valley hospitals, subcontracted its dietary and housekeeping departments to ARAMARK, a Philadelphia company. EHS's decision was part of an ongoing cost-reduction strategy that included a 9 percent company-wide pay cut.

"When you form the union, you gain the right to sit down with your employer and negotiate about the future," says Carter Wright, communications director for the SEIU 1199NW. Hospital workers, he says, are mostly concerned with ARAMARK's reputation for converting full-time positions into part-time ones, along with cutting benefits.

EHS, Spokane's second-largest employer, has struggled financially of late. Earlier this month, CEO Tom White resigned. EHS has also fought a losing battle against its other employees' efforts to unionize.

On April 24, nurses from Valley Hospital and techs from both hospitals voted to join the SEIU, but nurses from Deaconess voted against the union. The National Labor Relations Board will soon release its decision regarding claims that EHS managers interfered with the voting process, which may allow Deaconess nurses to vote again.

A Bunch of Hot Air -- SPOKANE -- Not only is it getting really hot, but the air we breathe during this heat wave is also getting dirtier.

Hot and stagnant air traps pollution at ground level, causing all kinds of problems, especially for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma or allergies.

"Ground-level ozone -- commonly known as smog -- has been in the moderate [yellow] category six out of the last seven days," says Eric Skelton, director of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority (SCAPCA). "With continued hot, stagnant weather, we can expect levels to rise, perhaps into the unhealthy-for-sensitive-groups [orange] category."

SCAPCA issues an air quality index several times a day. That index runs on a scale from 0 to 500, with 500 being the highest level of pollution and 50 being the upper level for what's considered the 'good' range.

On Tuesday, ozone -- the pollutant with the highest concentration that day -- was at a 43, with particulate matter close behind. These are both pollutants caused mainly by car exhaust.

"But things can change rapidly. We usually don't have this problem when the temperature is below 90, but we can't change the weather," says Skelton. "What we can change is our own behavior, including not driving too much and avoid running our lawn movers in the hot weather."

Call SCAPCA's air quality hotline at 477-2571 or visit the Web site at for more detailed information about air pollution in this area.

Publication date: 07/31/03

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