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Posts tagged: Spokane County

A $5 million question: Could juror’s death have been prevented?

When 84-year-old Kay Mita got a jury summons, he regarded it as a sign the government was acknowledging a six-decades-old injustice. His first day of jury service, however, turned out to be the last day of his life.
Now the widow and son of a juror who died of exposure on the courthouse steps have filed a $5 million claim with the county, a possible prelude to a federal lawsuit against the county and Guardsmark LLC, which provides security at the courthouse.
Steve Bartel, the county’s risk manager, said his office is reviewing the claim to determine whether the county has any liability in what he acknowledged is “a terrible event.”
Mita reported for jury duty the morning of Nov. 26, 2007, left the jury room for the lunch break, but didn’t return at the scheduled time. He apparently became confused and disoriented, and was unable to find his car parked less than a block away. He wandered around the courthouse and its grounds for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Although his family reported him missing about 7 p.m., neither Spokane police who are in the adjoining building nor courthouse security guards who allowed him to stay in the building until it closed knew of the missing person report.
Mita stayed near the courthouse in snow and sub-freezing weather overnight until he died of hypothermia. His body was found the next morning, sitting near the steps of the courthouse’s south entrance.
“There’s some pretty confusing details I’m trying to figure out,” Bartel said. “Could we have done something different?”

To read the rest of the story, click on Continue reading below

County has new specs to run track

.Spokane County is looking for a new operator of its racetrack who will have to have something the last operator did not – experience running a track.

A request for qualifications to bid on the contract for the Spokane County Raceway Park was released Wednesday and the lease could be awarded by mid February, County Parks Director Doug Chase said. Any bidder must provide significantly more information on finances than the county requested last year, and expect increased oversight of track operations by the county.

“I think it’s safe to say” the county learned from problems it had with Bucky Austin, who received the operator’s lease for the track early this year, Chase said.

Did County out-Fox itself on hotel tax?

Spokane County will have to come up with a new plan to give money to the renovated Fox Theater. The old plan, to take about $21,000 a year from the county’s share of the hotel-motel tax, isn’t legal, Board Chairman Todd Mielke was told Monday.
The county’s Hotel Motel Tax Advisory Board balked Monday at the budget for an estimated $405,000 the county expects to collect from the lodging tax. Collections are projected to be down, and the Spokane Convention and Visitor’s Bureau was told it would see its payment cut from $275,000 to $250,000, and the Spokane Regional Sport Commission would be frozen at $75,000.
Even with those reductions, the budget is expected to be almost $33,000 in the red if tax collections are down, as projected.
Representatives of the visitors bureau and the sports commission said they could deal with their allotments, but questioned the county’s plan to send $20,625 of the lodging tax collected in the unincorporated county to the Fox Theater, which is in the City of Spokane.
Dave Pier, a vice president of Brett Sports and member of the advisory board, said the county’s hotel tax money has to be spent on projects or events that generate business in the county lodging facilities.
“I love the Fox Theater,” Pier said. “But it doesn’t meet the fund’s requirements.”

Spokane County turnout: 38.5% so far

Spokane voters seemed to spend a bit more time weighing their options this year. The two biggest days for ballots showing up at the elections office were yesterday and today.

The current ballot count stands at 98,968, which is 38.5 percent of all registered voters in the county. More than 39,000 of those ballots showed up in the last two days — and that doesn’t count the final pickups from drop boxes all over the county.

Could it be that some voters regretted voting too early in previous years, and held on to their ballots until closer to the deadline, to see how the campaigns played out? Hard to say, but it does seem to undercut the argument of some campaign operatives that so many resources should be targeted at the week the ballots get mailed out.

If tradition holds, biggest day for turnout will be tomorrow, when most ballots mailed yesterday and today get delivered.

For more on how the ballot turn-in count stands, go inside the blog.

County may cancel Austin contract

Spokane County Commissioners have an executive session at 2 p.m. to talk about cancelling the contract to run the Raceway Park.

They had already given Bucky Austin, the embattled operator, a 60-day deadline, that’s set to run out next week. They may cancel today.

Unanswered questions include what will they do if Austin doesn’t pay the contractors who did the work this summer at the raceway? What will they do with the track, which the county bought last year — find a new operator or have the county Parks run it themselves?

Stay tuned.

Jail Lts. give up COLAs

Spokane County jail lieutenants agreed to contract concessions that will wipe out their cost-of-living raises, overtime and comp time in 2010.

The agreement with the county, which comes as most departments are expecting to start next year with a budget that is 11 percent smaller than the one the had at the end of last year, would reduced the Sheriff’s budget by about $57,000.

“It wasn’t a hard sell at all,” Lt. Jay Hughes, the head of the seven member unit said Wednesday. “We all knew the budget was suffering.”

Under their existing contract, members of Local 492CL were scheduled to get a 1 percent cost-of-living raise on Jan. 1, and another 1 percent on July 1. They are also entitled to overtime or compensatory time when working more than 40 hours a week. Under the agreement, proposed by the unit members themselves, they will remain at this year’s pay, and become salaried employees not eligible for overtime or comp time. In return, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich guaranteed that none of them would be demoted to close the gap in the budget.

Jail lieutenants, who work at either the County Jail or the Geiger Corrections Center, earn between $64,990 and $87,695 a year. Their three-year contract, which ends Dec. 31, 2010, had a 1 percent cost of living increase in 2008, plus 1 percent increases this year on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Track operator owes $20K to county, $1M to contractors

The operator of the county’s West Plains racetrack owes $20,000 in back payments to the county and more than $1 million to contractors who have been refurbishing the facility, county officials said

County Executive Marshall Farnell confirmed Monday that Bucky Austin, the track’s operator, has missed two monthly payments of $10,000 each, which are required under the terms of the lease announced last fall.

“He is two months behind,” Farnell said. “We don’t know why.”

The county asked Austin “resolve” the lease payment problem – that is, make the payments he owes – last week, Parks Director Doug Chase said. If he doesn’t make the payments, Austin could be served notice that he’s in breach of contract, and his lease eventually terminated.

Sewer rate increase postponed

Spokane County commissioners put a planned sewer rate increase on hold Tuesday evening, giving residents another week to offer written comments, and a week beyond that for them to chew on it. They’re now talking about voting on the increase at their 2 p.m. meeting on July 7.

Sewer rate increases were on the agenda of the public hearing Tuesday, but despite the prospect of a jump of about $11.50 over the next three years, the villagers did not show up with torches and pitchforks.

Commissioners were inclined to hold off anyway, citing the need to review interest rates for 20- and 25-year bonds to pay for the new wastewater treatment plant.

Estimates from a month ago showed a 25-year bond issue could lower residential rates by $2 per month compared to a 20-year bond, but cost an extra $47 million over the life of the bonds, Commission Chairman Todd Mielke said.

“It’s in the county’s and the Valley’s interest to get the lowest possible interest rates,” he said.

The county is also negotiating an interlocal agreement with the city of Spokane Valley that shows the city’s support for the project and the county’s guarantee of service for the length of the bonds, and to create an advisory committee on rates. The two governments agree on the concepts, Mielke said.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rich Munson said the city and county are still discussing some aspects of the agreement, such as the agreement not to use any other source of wastewater treatment for the life of the bonds. It has discussed the possibility of using the city of Spokane’s treatment facility but believes that option “is not a good one.”

It is also concerned that the county cannot yet guarantee it will get a permit from the state to discharge treated water into the Spokane River. But city still believes the county is the best option and expects to reach an agreement.

“I don’t anticipate problems. I do anticipate discussions,” Munson said.

So there’s still time for residents of the county and the city of Spokane Valley to tell commissioners what they think of paying more for sewer (hopefully without using potty mouth terms).

Got something to say? Go inside the blog for addresses.

Spokane Valley Council faces sheriff expenses

On the heels of a state auditor’s report that they owe money for law enforcement services, the City of Spokane Valley City Council is holding a special meeting Thursday morning “to discuss dispute resolution regarding billing.”

The city and the county have been arguing over who owes what to whom for deputies and jail time for several years. The city claimed it was being double billed for some services, for an amount that added up over time to more than $2 million.

On Monday, assistant audit manager Gary Cavendar said the city and its Portland accounting firm was using the wrong assumptions to come up with its double-billing claim. Read staff writer John Craig’s report here.

The city isn’t necessarily caving. But the announcement for the 8:30 a.m. special meeting includes the following comment from Mayor Rich Munson:  “It is our intent that the negotiations over this issue move quickly toward a mutually beneficial resolution in a minimum amount of time.” 


One more into a council race

Clock is ticking down to the deadline to file for political office.

5 p.m. is it. Finito. end of story.

In the meantime, the race for Spokane City Council’s District 2 in south Spokane grew to four Friday afternoon with the entry of Kristina Sabestinas, an aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She joins former councilman Steve Eugster, magazine publisher Jon Snyder, incumbent Mike Allen for that seat.

Northeast Spokane’s District 1 still has two candidates, Amber Waldref and Mike Fagan.

Northwest Spokane’s District 3 has still six: John Waite, Nancy McLaughlin, Karen Kearney, Barbara Lampert, Victor Noder and Christopher Stevens.

In the Spokane Valley, only one council race had two candidates as of lunchtime: the Position 1 seat with incumbent Diana Wilhite and challenger Brenad Grassel.

For the full list for races totally or partially in Spokane County , go inside the blog.

Ground “broken” for sewage treatment plant

One of the largest public works projects in Spokane County history — one that has been nearly 30 years in the making — got its official start Thursday as local officials held a dirt turner for the $140 million wastewater treatment facility.

For those unfamiliar with such events, a dirt turner is news media terminology for a standard arrow in the public officials’ quiver of events. A bunch of people who have little or no business on a construction site go out to a piece of land that’s been cleared for some big construction project, stand around near heavy equipment, and at the appropriate time stick shovels in the ground and hoist up what is often a pitiful amount of earth to signal the beginning of the project.

Standing on land off Freya Street once occupied by stockyards — any allusion to the by-product of so many cows standing around for so many years is strictly the fault of the county here — elected and appointed government leaders from the county, the city of Spokane Valley and the city of Spokane stuck shovels into the pre-softened soil and complimented each other for their cooperation.

Really. They were extremely nice to each other. Dirt turners bring out the best in public officials.

In a cluster?

The Spokane County Planning Commission has a hearing Thursday morning on clusters.

Not the vegetative kind, although these do affect rural areas. Not the Army ordinance kind, although the issue could be explosive.

The hearing involves rural cluster development, which is a way to shift current county zoning rules for large lots. Right now, property in certain rural zones is limited to one house for every 10 or 20 acres; cluster zoning would allow a developer to concentrate the homes in one part of a large parcel if there are large tracts of “open space” in the rest of the development.

There’s more to it than that, of course. You can read about it here.

Hearing starts at 9 a.m. in the Commissioner’s Hearing Room, which is in the basement of the Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway.

Reminder: County Building Dept. works 4 days…

…and Friday ain’t one of them.

Tomorrow, May 8, is the first Friday the Spokane County Building and Planning Department will not be open because of budget cuts. So if you need a permit for that weekend project, better get their this afternoon.

And if you were hoping for an inspector to pop by tomorrow to sign off on work completed, well, you’re outta luck.

Friday closures continue until further notice. County officials will review it monthly, and say if the volume of work warrants it, they’ll go back to five days a week.

County to builders: We’re closed Friday

In a move designed to help save money, Spokane County’s Building and Planning offices will be closed on Fridays, starting the first week of May.

County officials announced this week they’d negotiated a “memorandum of understanding” with two  unions that represent staff in the department, which issues building permits and inspects construction projects to ensure they meet codes.

The staff of 39 will go from working 37.5 hours per week to working 32 hours a week, and the office will only be open from 7:30 a.m to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday. After May 4, no permits will be issued and no sites will be inspected on Fridays “until further notice,” a county spokeswoman said.

The change quickly drew criticism from the construction community, which needs permits to start projects and inspections to complete them.

“That is outrageous,” Kate McCaslin, chief executive officer of Associated Builders and Contractors, said. “Do they think that the world just stops on Friday? They no longer operate in the real world.”

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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