Spokane Valley begins to decide how to spend the $16 million it received from the US bailout
Spokane Valley is prioritizing affordable housing, a new facility for a local food bank and sewer infrastructure for its $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.
“What we’re trying to do here is put money in on a one-time basis that would benefit us, without incurring recurring expenses,” Spokane Valley Councilman Rod Higgins said.
The city got the money through the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress in March 2021 to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Spokane Valley, and on Tuesday the City Council began to seriously decide how to spend its millions.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out,” Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said. “We, for the most part, seem to agree on everything.”
Prior to Tuesday’s discussion, the city council had already earmarked $2 million for three purposes.
About $250,000 will cover various U.S. bailout and pandemic-related costs for the city government. About $750,000 will pay for a new sewer line on Buckeye Avenue. The Innovia Foundation will likely receive $1 million for its LaunchNW initiative. Innovia says the project will benefit the local economy by helping more children attend college or trade schools and increasing the area’s workforce.
The city council wants to spend $6 million of the remaining $14 million to buy land, primarily with affordable housing and mental health services in mind.
Spokane Valley may be able to indirectly create more affordable housing by buying land and turning it over to third-party organizations like nonprofits, which often lack the capital to make large land purchases but could put housing up in the field.
“You can’t really come up with a housing plan if you don’t have the secure property underneath,” Councilman Ben Wick said.
Buying a property could also help the city avoid U.S. bailout restrictions.
Local governments must decide how to use their money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026. Starting and finishing a construction project within this time frame can be difficult. Buying land would be easier.
Spokane Valley plans to invest $4 million in a new $12.5 million, 15,000 square foot facility for Spokane Valley Partners, a nonprofit social service organization better known as the food bank.
“We can help them get into a new building,” Wick said. “It’s a one-time capital cost, not an ongoing operational cost.”
David Stone, program manager for Spokane Valley Partners, said his organization has outgrown the converted church it uses as warehouse and office space.
Angie Kelleher, director of development and communications at Spokane Valley Partners, said the number of people in need of food has increased over the past year.
From the first quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022, Spokane Valley Partners saw a 30% increase in the number of people needing food, Kelleher said.
“We just kind of exploded beyond what we had already grown as a result of COVID,” she said. “It’s not what we were hoping for.”
Not only would a new facility help Spokane Valley Partners store food, diapers and clothing, but it would also provide more office space.
Spokane Valley Partners shares a building with other nonprofits, including Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners and Catholic Charities. A new facility will help all organizations better integrate under one roof.
This will allow Spokane Valley Partners to increasingly serve as an all-in-one resource center for city residents. Kelleher noted that the nonprofit hopes a mental health support organization can have an office in the new building.
Spokane Valley also prioritizes infrastructure.
Unfortunately for the city council, US bailout dollars cannot be earmarked for road projects. However, water, sewer and broadband projects are eligible.
The city intends to invest $1.4 million in sewer infrastructure, in addition to funds allocated for the Buckeye Avenue project.
About $843,000 is earmarked for the Spokane Valley Police Department. These dollars will be used for technological improvements, such as new cameras and license plate readers.
Some of the money is for the arts. The Spokane Valley Performing Arts Center, a $36 million project, is expected to receive $786,000.
Higgins said the performing arts center could benefit the local economy.
“There’s nothing like it for miles around,” he said. “If we are looking for something that will support our businesses, and in particular our hoteliers, then I think that has a lot of possibilities.”
Mental health assistance and mental health learning support will likely receive $500,000.
Peetz said investing in mental health is essential.
“We have so many people struggling right now,” she said.