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Spokane Valley eyes 3-year grant to expand police force by ten officers

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(The Center Square) – Spokane Valley is considering using a grant to expand its police presence by ten positions, a decision that could save the city $1.25 million but result in a larger bill down the road.

If approved, the Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program could bring the Valley $125,000 per new officer over the next three years, requiring a 25% local match.

Once expired, stipulations then require the Spokane Valley Police Department to retain each new officer for at least 12 more months.

Valley officials initially identified the grant following a review by a consulting firm that noted SVPD was short 28 officers; then, in February, Police Chief Dave Ellis laid out a plan approved by the City Council to hire the initial phase of ten officers through the 2025 budget.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Deputy City Manager Erik Lamb said that while relying on grants for recurring expenses is abnormal, the COPS CHP grant is an opportunity to reduce the city’s short-term expenditures while addressing long-term priorities.

“In February, we identified funding the ten new deputy positions from existing resources,” Lamb said, “or that we would be able to fund them from existing resources by prioritizing public safety.”

That means that even if denied, Spokane Valley can fund these ten new positions; though, it would put more pressure on local taxpayers as SVPD would need to make up for the approximately $417,000 the grant would have brought in for each of the next three years.

However, the salaries and benefits of ten officers cost more than $417,000 each year, or $41,700 per officer. According to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, those additions would cost the Valley an estimated $1.27 million annually, more than allowed over the entire grant period.

If awarded the maximum amount, the city would still pay just under $1 million a year for the new positions after its local match. That anticipated cost would then increase to around $1.37 million each year after the grant expires, not to mention the other 18 positions still needed.

“It’s really meant to help the city get the positions hired initially and set up for success so that we can establish [funding options] for going forward,” Lamb said.

SVPD hired six officers over the last few months but had four others retire, Ellis said; so, while recruitment is trending slightly upward, the anticipated impact is dismal compared to apparent demand.

Recently, a local survey found that 45% of respondents support filling all the recommended positions for SVPD. Meanwhile, 26%, the second largest group, support hiring the initial phase and analyzing its impact before committing to any additional hires.

The survey outlined a few potential funding options outside of the COPS CHP grant, with the most favorable being a public safety sales tax that 53% of respondents supported.

Spokane Valley’s City Council voted unanimously to proceed with applying for the COPS CHP grant. If approved, the grant would initiate funding for three years starting in 2025.