May 14, 2009 in Washington Voices

Council scrutinizes abandoned vehicles

Vehicle towing policy may get update
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Leave your hulky mobile home on a Spokane Valley street and it may be towed right out of town under legislation presented to the City Council on Tuesday.

You can expect better treatment if your stylish SUV breaks down.

Deputy City Attorney Cary Driskell said a council pledge not to tow residents’ cars outside city limits is troublesome in the case of “hulk” vehicles.

In addition to junk cars, a couple of derelict mobile homes have been abandoned on public rights of way, “and those are a little harder to get rid of,” Driskell told the council.

One of the council’s first accommodations to citizens after the city was incorporated in 2003 was an ordinance prohibiting police from having vehicles towed to impound yards outside the city. However, Driskell said it’s hard to find tow companies willing to store junk vehicles no one is likely to claim.

Under an ordinance amendment, the council agreed to consider at a future meeting, towing companies would be divided into three classes on rotation lists for police-ordered tows.

The Class B list would be for vehicles considered junk under the city nuisance ordinance. Class C would be for mobile homes or manufactured homes, as defined by state law, and for “park trailers” designed for temporary utility connections.

Only in Class A, for non-junk vehicles, would towing companies have to use a Spokane Valley impound yard.

Towing companies could register for as many classes as they wish.

According to the existing nuisance ordinance, a junk vehicle must satisfy three of four criteria: being at least 3 years old, “extensively damaged,” apparently inoperable, or having a market value approximately equal to its scrap value.

Among more serious problems, a broken window or a missing wheel constitute extensive damage under the nuisance law.

In other business Tuesday, the council was told city officials are looking for ways to offset a $102,294 loss from Spokane County’s decision to reduce the space it leases in the city-owned police and court building from 44 percent to 15 percent of the total.

The structure, at 12710 E. Sprague Ave., is known as the Precinct Building because Spokane County purchased it in 2001 as a sheriff’s and District Court outpost before the city was formed. Later, the city leased 56 percent of the building for three years and then purchased it in 2006.

The county paid $2.45 million to acquire and renovate the building, and the city bought it from the county for $1.5 million. Mayor Rich Munson said the price reflected the fact that, before incorporation, Spokane Valley residents contributed about half of what the county spent.

Although the county agreed at first to lease 44 percent of the building for law enforcement services it provides the city under contract, county officials last year exercised their right to reduce the leased space to 15 percent this year. The vacated areas include a jail holding area, a garage and several other areas that had been shared with the city.

City Manager Dave Mercier said the county doesn’t need as much space in the Precinct Building because it acquired a lot of surplus space at the University City Shopping Center when it rented a training center there.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said the county also has surplus space in its regional health district building, where most of the fourth floor is vacant.

Morgan Koudelka, a senior administrative analyst for the city, said city officials would prefer to leave the Precinct Building’s jail holding area unchanged, but renovation for private or nonprofit office rentals is a possibility.

“We’re looking into the potential to store records and property in this area,” he said. “Also court-related services.”

Ongoing studies into the possibility of the city providing its own police and court services “may give some insight into the future use of this area,” Koudelka said.

There is about 3,100 square feet in the holding area and about 1,100 square feet of unheated garage space at the back of the building.

Mercier said he hoped other police agencies might be interested in the holding area as “highly protective storage for any sensitive material.”

Councilman Gary Schimmels suggested using some of the building’s surplus space to eliminate two mini-storage units that cost the city about $7,000 a year.

Also Tuesday, the council received a report that it is “unlikely” the city will be able to set up its own snowplowing operation by November, when Spokane County commissioners have said they will terminate their contract to provide that service.

City officials had hoped a county offer to help the city establish its own plowing program would include preparing a request for proposals from private contractors, but Public Works Director Neil Kersten said in a written report that County Engineer Bob Brueggeman told him last week “that was not the county’s intention.”

Kersten said city officials have started the work, but the solicitation will take five to six months to prepare, and several more months will be needed to secure a contract. He said he plans to negotiate a contract for one more year of county snow removal, which commissioners have offered as a last-ditch possibility.

Another possibility is that the city may be able to get some surplus equipment from the Washington Department of Transportation on an emergency basis. The city also would have to buy or lease a shop and storage yard and hire private operators and mechanics.

Kersten said he doesn’t have “a clear understanding of the procurement process required for this effort,” and is consulting the city’s attorneys. There may not be enough time for that option even if city officials begin pursuing it immediately, he said.


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