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County to end Valley plow services

Announcement catches city by surprise

Spokane Valley officials were stunned Tuesday evening to learn Spokane County won’t plow their roads next winter.

City Manager Dave Mercier said the city faces “stunningly high” capital costs to acquire road graders, plow trucks and other equipment, as well as a garage and offices.

County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to keep providing snow removal and other service this winter, but to cancel their contract with the city Oct. 15. The agreement required only six months’ notice.

Mayor Rich Munson announced the county action after checking his cell phone messages during a break in Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. He learned of the action in a voicemail from County Commissioner Mark Richard.

“I don’t believe they have talked to us at all about this, have they?” Munson asked.

No, Mercier said. “I was completely unaware of it until you mentioned it just before we reconvened.”

After the meeting, Mercier said he would need to “wait for the shock to wear off” before considering a “Plan B.”

When the city incorporated in 2003, Spokane Valley contracted with the county to provide most of the services connected with the new city’s streets. Gradually, many of those responsibilities have been taken over by the city.

Richard said earlier in the day that it no longer made economic sense for the county to continue with the contract.

A press release said county Engineer Bob Brueggeman told county commissioners that the contract was no longer cost-effective because the city began buying fewer services two years ago.

“What’s left with our contract is really just a fraction of what we started with,” Richard said.

Richard said the decision likely won’t result in county layoffs because of the costs saved by dropping the services. He said that the county hopes to maintain a partnership with the city for maintenance of traffic lights.

Mercier said the city began hiring private contractors for summer road work – street patching, street cleaning, weed control and the like – at the request of county officials.

“We signed a contract to effect the transition about three years ago, so there’s nothing new under the tree here,” Mercier said.

Now, he said, the city is down to the “three S’s: snow clearance, signalization and signage.”

“Instead of paying the county $3 million-plus, we’re down to paying them about $1.4 million,” Mercier said.

He said last year’s $1.8 million expenditure was higher than usual because of heavier snowfall.

Although maintaining traffic signals is “pretty important,” loss of county snow plowing service is a major problem for the city, Mercier said.

While private contractors were available for the many of the city’s street needs, Mercier isn’t aware of any that is equipped to plow 430 miles of city streets.

Until now, he said, county officials have acknowledged the need for a lengthy transition if the city is to take over winter road work. They have talked about three to five years, Mercier said.

Staff writer Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.