City may seek mediation over sheriff’s service bill
The Spokane Valley City Council agreed in a special session Thursday to pay more than $1.1 million it has held back from Spokane County under the city’s contract for sheriff’s service.
Council members said that despite their unanimous decision, they haven’t abandoned their claim that the county billed the city twice for the indirect services by sheriff’s administrative staff. They envision more expert review and possible mediation.
City Manager Dave Mercier said the city will resume paying its full bill after making a $1,131,994 catch-up payment that settled the account through May 31. The back payment includes only a few months of interest although the city began withholding payments early last year. However, Chairman Todd Mielke said in an interview that county commissioners are willing to forgo additional interest.
Thursday’s meeting was intended to mend fences with county officials, who sent a delegation, but some of the parties got tangled in barbed wire.
While Councilman Gary Schimmels said he was happy that “at least we are paying our way at this point and that we do not cause a full breach of that contract,” Councilman Steve Taylor said he would “very reluctantly” support the “extremely magnanimous” decision.
Taylor said he didn’t share commissioners’ confidence in a summary report Monday in which the state auditor’s office said the city’s claim of double-billing resulted from an apples-and-oranges comparison based on an incorrect assumption.
Taylor walked Mercier through a series of questions and answers indicating that, until Monday’s audit report, Spokane County hadn’t responded to a city-commissioned consulting report that says the county is overcharging for administration.
Mielke said commissioners chose to get their advice about the dispute from the state auditor’s office because it is a “neutral arbitrator of public finance in this state,” but the report came later than commissioners had hoped.
Although rocky, Thursday’s meeting established that city officials are willing to negotiate changes commissioners and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich want in the police contract. Mielke said the contract requires mutual consent to negotiate changes before it expires, and suggested failure to negotiate changes could lead to cancellation of the contract.
Knezovich and Mielke said they want Spokane Valley to pay according to the amount of service it receives in various categories, much as 911 service is based on the number of calls from each jurisdiction. Currently, Spokane Valley’s police contract calls for the city to pay a flat 42 percent of the sheriff’s overall law enforcement costs.
Munson said in an interview that he called for Thursday’s meeting – with a bare-minimum 24-hour notice – after hearing Monday that county cash-flow problems were jeopardizing the jobs of 20 county employees.
“It’s kind of a gesture of good faith,” he said. “We’re trying to make this thing less controversial.”