The list of finance directors in the history of Spokane Valley begins and ends with Ken Thompson.
Since starting with the city in June 2003, Thompson has seen the terrain shift at City Hall a few degrees – the span includes four mayors, the addition of a phone tax and a general budget that now tops some $27 million.
The roll call in the finance department has also gone through its share of changes, starting with a staff that consisted of Thompson and two people in the accounting office. These days, the lineup includes a pair of technology experts, a database manager and seven accounting employees.
This summer, the department’s lead role will experience a transition as Thompson begins life as a retiree. He made the announcement earlier this month.
|Spokane Valley Finance Director Ken Thompson will retire in June after serving with the city since the incorporation year of 2003. Picture by: Craig Howard
“Ken has really been a cornerstone of this city,” said Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey. “It’s going to be difficult to replace the kind of background and knowledge that he has.”
Thompson arrived in Spokane Valley after working as the finance director in Albany, Ore., from 1999 to 2003. Prior to that, he served with the city of Coeur d’Alene from 1983 to 1999, first as city administrator and later as finance director.
One of his first assignments in Spokane Valley was to fix a snafu with sales tax collection that found the city around $500,000 short on its monthly receipts. Instead of receiving an anticipated $1 million in revenue each month, about half the total was going to Spokane County because many Spokane Valley businesses were not punching in the new city code when documenting a sale.
“That was the big news the day I came to work,” Thompson recalled.
The city hired a company called Microflex to work on the problem. Consulting with representatives from Spokane County and the state Department of Revenue, Microflex was able to retrieve lost funds and get local businesses on board. They also letters of notice to nearly 2,000 retailers. Soon, the numbers were back on track.
“It’s a big part of our revenue,” Thompson said.
Despite some turbulent economic waters in recent years, Towey said Thompson has played an integral part in stabilizing the city’s fiscal ship. In addition to the $27 million in the general budget, Spokane Valley has another $3 million set aside in a civic facilities account as well as over $5 million in a service level stabilization fund. The mayor also applauded Thompson and his staff for their stellar record in state audits.
“Ken stays in the background, but he really plays a vital role for this city,” said Towey, who serves on the municipal finance committee with Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels and Council Member Dean Grafos. “In our budget meetings, he does a great job describing each process and taking us through each step.”
For his part, Thompson said Spokane Valley’s solvency can be attributed to the City Council and an approach that emphasizes frugality and contracting with outside agencies for services like law enforcement, library programs and parks maintenance.
“The first council and the current council have both done a good job of being cost conscious,” Thompson said.
Mike DeVleming, Spokane Valley’s inaugural mayor who served on the City Council from 2003 to 2007, recalls the financial state of the new city being the subject of wide speculation after the vote for incorporation passed in May 2002. Groups like the Boundary Review Board and the Association of Washington Cities conducted studies that showed the city would likely be standing in good stead – but no one could say for sure until the real numbers were in. DeVleming remembers Thompson being critical in helping the staff and council establish a healthy direction, especially when it came to building up reserve funds.
“Ken was very good at explaining things,” DeVleming said. “He was a good teacher and very patient in breaking it down so the new council could understand what was going on. He did a lot to help the city, but he was always giving credit to the council.”
After graduating with a degree in business from Southern Oregon University, Thompson made his initial career stop in Portland with an insurance company. He recalls his first boss promoting an environment “that emphasized values over winning at any cost,” an approach that stayed with Thompson throughout his professional life.
Later, when he was serving as part of municipal staff, Thompson made a decision on an expenditure for the inspection of a number of city fuel tanks that were being checked for soil contamination. Although the study cost more than a competitor who was not as thorough, Thompson said safety and stewardship took precedence over price.
“We did it the way the law intended instead of doing it cheaply and cutting corners,” he said. “It was a reminder that when you make the right decision, you’re not going to feel bad.”
Spokane Valley officials have already indicated that they hope to have an overlapping phase between the time a new finance director is hired and Thompson leaves. Thompson has also said he would help with the process of reviewing applicant qualifications.
“I’ll miss the people the most,” Thompson said when looking ahead to his retirement. “I’m really proud of the crew we have in the finance department.”