June 18, 2009 in Washington Voices

City following steps to resolve billing

Richard Munson
 

Many of you have heard a lot of rhetoric in the past several days concerning the claim by the city of Spokane Valley that Spokane County has over billed the city for law enforcement services. The city has chosen not to engage in rhetoric. We will provide you with what we believe are the pertinent facts of the situation and let you decide if we have chosen the best path.

We believe the county commissioners are frustrated by a process that has taken too long to resolve our differences. We share their frustration. However, we also firmly believe that a protocol adopted by both parties to resolve differences like these must be allowed to run its course. The process requires deliberative fact finding that will insure all parties are heard and an outcome is reached that is fair and equitable. It is important to note that in our form of council/manager government the City Council has authorized the city staff to negotiate contracts and contract disputes and reserves to council the discretion to approve or deny negotiation outcomes.

In early 2007, during the normal settle and adjust period for the 2006 contract period, our staff notified the county that we believed it had overcharged the city of Spokane Valley for law enforcement services. The county disagreed. Please note that I stated the county, not the sheriff, disagreed. Invoices for these services were prepared following billing procedures set up by the county.

After more than a year of analysis by both sides, it became apparent neither side would be convinced of the other’s position. Our city manager then formally asked for the dispute to go to mediation as the contract provides. He further stated that we would maintain payment at 2007 rates for these services until resolution was attained. The city has placed the disputed amount in our general fund so in case the mediation outcome finds we are wrong and the council agrees, we could pay the owed amount promptly.

The mediation process requires both parties put together a case of facts. The city hired a firm of forensic accountants to make sure we had analyzed the facts correctly. We gave the county the analytical report on Dec. 2, 2008. That report stated that the county had overcharged the city $609,000 for the year 2006. The county then asked the state Auditor’s Office for a review of the billing procedures. It has been six months since it asked for this review. On Monday the state Auditor’s Office released its draft findings.

With this in mind, the commissioners have insisted the City Council of Spokane Valley enter into negotiations to resolve this situation. The City Council will honor the separation of responsibilities assigned to staff and await their analysis and findings. Why would we begin to talk about a resolution without being able to analyze the state Auditor’s Office review of the county’s billing practices and compare the state report with our study?

We are willing to have our staff discuss the two reports and let them recommend a solution that both boards can agree or not agree with. We are willing to enter into mediation if we cannot resolve our differences. All we ask is the county be equally willing to allow a process that we have both agreed on to run its course so we can resolve this situation.

Richard M. Munson is mayor of Spokane Valley. He can be contacted at rmunson@spokanevalley. Org.


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