The phrase “managed competition” may be a new term to some, but to those of us with a limited budget, it is an exercise practiced daily in the homes of Spokane Valley. How often have you asked yourself while standing in front of a cash register, “is this the best price I can find?” or “is the service better across the street?” Many times the answer to either of these questions is no. When that happens, we start shopping around. Sometimes we find we can get better service across the street for the same price. Other times we discover that we can get a much better price for the exact same product. This is the true definition of managed competition.
These price and service questions are being discussed by your City Council. As recently as June 26, the Spokane Valley Council gave the City Manager and city staff clear and direct instructions to explore managed competition. The concept of getting the most “bang for our buck” may seem elementary, but as elected officials, we must never lose focus of that responsibility.
We have started this process by focusing on two specific service areas: park maintenance and library services. The selection of these two service areas was made primarily for two reasons: we are concerned about the overall cost of these services and we believe that viable and affordable alternatives may be readily available.
Why are we doing this? All of us want our hard earned dollars to go as far as they can, regardless if it’s our paycheck or our tax dollars. During the next several months, as the city budget for next year is prepared, debated and decided, we as a community will have many discussions regarding how our tax dollars are spent. We are a young city with a number of financial challenges before us. And like almost every other city and county in this state, we are looking at maximizing our revenue. How do we do that? One of the ways is to make sure the contracts and agreements we have are the best value available. This means as a contract city, we need to analyze the costs associated with the services being provided.
What else do we hope to accomplish? Managed competition affords our city and its citizens a choice among service providers rather than limiting us to a single source. It also provides existing service providers an opportunity to streamline their operations, adopt new business strategies, and pursue innovations that may not otherwise be considered. The process also creates the opportunity to fully describe the costs of providing a service so that citizens know the true costs of proving the service.
There may be a few misunderstandings regarding managed competition. I would like to clear up a few of those misconceptions. Managed competition is not a complaint against the current service provider. Managed competition is not the same as outsourcing or privatization, and it does not demand a change in service providers. Rather, it allows the current contractor a fresh opportunity to compete for city business. The decision to change service providers or stay with the current one will not be based on cost alone. We will also take into consideration the ability of a service provider to deliver the highest level of service, the overall economic impact to the community, the number and types of jobs created, and the opportunity for existing employees to continue working in the same areas if a new provider should be chosen.
In these challenging economic times, there may be a number of difficult decisions ahead. We may see changes to the way things have been done. Hopefully, the majority of changes will be for the betterment of our community.