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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County’s budget is growing by $200 million next year. Here’s why

Spokane County's budget is going up by $200 million next year, mainly thanks to an influx of federal funds and a small arms range construction project on the West Plains.   (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County's budget is going up by $200 million next year, mainly thanks to an influx of federal funds and a small arms range construction project on the West Plains.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County’s budget is up $200 million from the year before, but much of the increase is a mirage.

For the last three years, Spokane County’s budget ranged from $675 million to $677 million. Now, the budget’s soaring to $873 million.

More than $100 million of the increase is American Rescue Plan funding. Spokane County directly received $101 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal stimulus bill designed to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Spokane County commissioners are spending a significant portion of their American Rescue Plan funds on water and sewer infrastructure. They’re also investing heavily in broadband internet expansion in rural areas, a new park on the West Plains and improvements to the Plante’s Ferry Sports Complex.

About $60 million of the budget is related to construction of a law enforcement training facility on the West Plains. The new small arms range, shared by Spokane County and Fairchild Air Force Base, will include 21 shooting lanes.

Building the small arms range will cost about $30 million, but the facility is being double-counted in the 2023 budget because the county issued bonds to pay for it.

“We have money coming in as that $30 million, but then we have a debt service equal to that now that has to be paid back,” Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns explained.

Even after subtracting $60 million for the small arms range and $101 million for the American Rescue Plan, the county’s budget is growing by about $40 million compared to last year.

New union contracts account for a large chunk of the increase.

“That was a big part of 2022,” Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney said. “As those settle, it’s really 2023 that it hits the budget.”

A handful of capital projects are contributing to the $40 million uptick, too, including $3 million for roof replacement at the Fair and Expo Center, $1.6 million for upgrades to Bear Lake Regional Park and about $4 million for “enterprise resource planning” software. The software is an all-in-one accounting application that allows local governments to track their spending, purchasing and payroll expenses with one program.

On top of new labor contracts, software and capital projects, the county is adding employees.

The Sheriff’s Office is gaining the most new positions, with four detectives, one sergeant and two analysts expected to join the agency next year. Three of the new detectives will focus on property crimes.

“We’re trying to do what we can for public safety,” Kuney said.

The criminal justice system is Spokane County’s greatest expense.

Running the downtown jail and Geiger Corrections Center will cost a combined $55 million in 2023. After detention services, the Sheriff’s Office is the second most expensive department, with a $53 million price tag.

Adding up the costs for law enforcement, prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys and courts, Spokane County will spend nearly $170 million on public safety and justice next year.

Kerns said he’s proud that the county budget doesn’t include a property tax increase.

“I think that is huge,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

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