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No business like snow business

Most of Spokane County may be thinking about such warm weather concerns as whether we fit into a bathing suit, whether the legs are so white they'll blind bystanders or how to get  a decent campground site. But not the elected officials of Spokane Valley and Spokane County.

They are still engaged in a war of words over snow. Specifically, how will it be pushed off the streets of the City of Spokane Valley once it starts falling this winter. The answer:

No one is sure.

In January, the Spokane County commissioners notified the City of the Valley the county would not be plowing under its existing contract in the winter of '09-'10. Valley officials' reaction ranged from surprise to outrage to unprintable streams of invective which, if uttered outside, probably would have melted the snow and contributed to global warming.

County said the current contract allowed for cancellation with 180 days notice, and they were giving much more than that...

So now it's almost June, and feelings apparently haven't healed much....

Last week, the Valley City Council was talking about putting together a short-term snow-plowing plan for the coming winter, and a long-term plan to last as long as 20 years after that. They have a team of consultants putting together a Request for Proposal for bids to handle the plowing, but getting a workable proposal out, bids back and evaluated, then awarded, would likely take longer than first snowfall.

Mayor Rich Munson said the county seemed unlikely to extend the contract for another season, and Councilman Steve Taylor suggested that a county commissioner who lives in the Valley (that would be Mark Richard) might have trouble getting to work some winter morning because the roads weren't plowed.

Commissioners took umbrage to that comment Tuesday, as well as to a suggestion that the county wouldn't keep its word on helping if the Vally made a "good faith effort" to line up snow removal but ultimately was unsuccessful.

But one thing is sure: The county might offer a new, short-term contract, but it won't "extend" the old contract. Chairman Todd Mielke said the old contract didn't cover the cost of plowing Valley streets in the heavy snowfalls this January, which meant the rest of the county was subsidizing the clearing of Valley streets. If there is a new contract, it will cost the Valley more.

"We want to be the last resort, not the first resort, for getting through this winter," Mielke said.

Valley staff tried to calm the waters Tuesday, telling commissioners the city was working through its options, looking at buying some equipment for the coming winter while it explores long-term options. Public Works Director Neil Kersten acknowledged that there would be a new contract with new terms: "I wouldn't expect anything less."

Expectations on the City Council, however, may be different.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.