February 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

Valley, County squabbles continue

Thomas Clouse Staff writer
 

Spokane Valley and Spokane County officials have a relationship that sometimes make the public dustups between Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton look tame.

But Monday, council members and commissioners met in an effort to air some issues and vowed to communicate better so residents don’t end up paying more or losing levels of service because officials can’t get along.

For instance, county officials said their counterparts at the city are in breach of contract in underpaying for police services from the Sheriff’s Office, and Spokane Valley leaders said county commissioners made it almost impossible to quickly replicate services when they voted to cease snow removal starting in October.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rich Munson also asked county leaders to allow city officials in the discussions about alternatives and financing options for the $170 million wastewater treatment plant that commissioners signed contracts to build last week.

“We hope this (wastewater treatment plant) moves on in a smooth manner. But we reserve the right to protect ourselves,” Munson said.

Commissioner Mark Richard then responded.

“I’m a little concerned about the comments I just heard. I think what I heard you say is, ‘We’re with you but we reserve the right to not be with you.’ Is that an oversimplification?” Richard asked.

Munson said he was referring to delays in a plant that may force a moratorium on residential and commercial building.

“That would be the trigger that would cause us to say we have another plan,” he said. “It’s becoming readily apparent that we don’t have a choice” about alternatives to the wastewater treatment plant. “But if you don’t look, then you haven’t done due diligence.”

Munson added: “We haven’t seen anything to date that makes any sense as an alternative. We want to work with you and make sure to get this done in the most cost-effective way possible. But we have to be with you.”

Jim Emacio, the chief deputy civil prosecuting attorney, said the two governments need to have more dialogue on several contracts, including making sure that all costs – direct and some indirect – are recovered from the contracts with Spokane Valley.

Because of a conflict over how the contract language reads, Spokane Valley is only paying the 2007 contract rate for 2008 and this year for police services from the Sheriff’s Office. As a result, the county and city may be headed to litigation, he said.

“I’ve been with the county 35 years. I have never had more conflicts with so many contracts as I have had with the city of Spokane Valley,” Emacio said.

City Manager Dave Mercier said communication breakdowns have contributed to the problems.

“Today was the first time I heard the phrase ‘breach of contract,’ ” Mercier said. “If it had been raised before, it would have been dealt with months ago. Our purpose today is not to throw stones.”

Commissioner Todd Mielke reiterated his previously stated problem with the roads contract. Mielke said it wasn’t fair for the county to pay staff and only recover money from Spokane Valley when the city had enough snow to call them out.

As a result of terminating that contract, Munson said, the city only has a few months to prepare for next winter.

“That’s a real chafing point for me personally and professionally. I don’t know how we can replicate that service with the time allotted,” he said. “It takes 11 months to get a plow delivered to you.”

Richard said the county is open to working with Spokane Valley and as long as the contracts are “mutually beneficial … and that we maintain the level of service.”

Munson ended the meeting by asking both governments to be more open.

“The Spokane Valley City Council has a vested interest to make sure Spokane County does well,” he said. “Because if we don’t, it will hurt us as much as it hurts you. Over the last year, that has broken down some.”

Thomas Clouse can be reached at 459-5495 or tomc@spokesman.review.com.


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