Last week was the first time Spokane Valley officials said they heard the words “breach of contract” with regard to a running dispute with Spokane County over an agreement to provide law enforcement services.
On Tuesday, Spokane County officials put a number to what they consider that breach: underpayments totaling $520,345 for 2008 and $272,027 already this year.
“If this underpayment continues for the entire calendar year, the city will have underpaid in 2009 an additional $1,632,164.16,” a letter sent Tuesday by the county to Spokane Valley officials says.
Spokane Valley City Manager Dave Mercier said he had not yet received the letter and it is his practice not to comment until he does.
But Mercier said the dispute comes down to how the county charges Spokane Valley for both the operation costs of the Spokane County Jail and police services.
The city hired a forensic accountant who determined in a report last December that the county had double-billed the city by $609,000 in 2006 because the county had charged Spokane Valley for jail costs in both contracts.
“Obviously we are reluctant to pay twice for the same cost,” Mercier said.
But Jim Emacio, the county’s chief deputy civil prosecuting attorney, said it is his view – and that of another civil attorney at the county – that Spokane Valley’s interpretation is flawed.
“What I’m suggesting is that the board may want to consider sending this correspondence to the mayor and city manager so at least they’ll see our formal position with regard to this,” Emacio said.
If city leaders don’t respond, county commissioners can charge interest on the unpaid amounts, which they already are doing; they can inform city officials that the county intends to end the contract, which requires a full year’s notice; or they can take the city to court on specific elements of the contract.
However, the current agreement first calls for mediation before the two sides take their arguments to court. The county has asked a state auditor to review the contract in preparation for mediation, but that information has not yet been completed, Emacio said.
Commissioner Mark Richard was careful to say that the letter does not indicate that the county has made any sort of decision.
“I just want to say for the record … it is not our desire to even entertain” terminating the contract, Richard said.
“This is our effort to try … to recoup costs for Spokane County.”