May 29, 2009 in City

County, Valley bicker over contract, audit

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Washington state auditor is being asked to help resolve a $2 million dispute between Spokane County and the city of Spokane Valley over law enforcement costs. But discussing the audit is creating a dispute within the dispute.

The quarterly joint meeting between the two government bodies, when the audit was supposed to be released, was scheduled for Wednesday. It was cancelled Friday after Valley city officials said they wanted to read the audit before discussing it in public.

“We just don’t do business that way,” Valley Mayor Rich Munson said of holding a public meeting on an unseen report.

Munson suggested the two groups talk about other items on the agenda, but County Board Chairman Todd Mielke said this is the most pressing issue the two governments need to resolve.

“I do not believe it makes sense to continue with the June 3 meeting to advance the priorities of Spokane Valley when this issue has continued to be brushed aside,” Mielke wrote Friday in an e-mail exchange. “It’s like the customer who is significantly behind on settling his account and requesting additional goods and services.”

The county sent a notice this spring that it considers the city in breach of the law enforcement contract, a step that could lead to court action.

The dispute revolves around an array of law enforcement services – everything from deputies in patrol cars to the jailing of prisoners – the city gets from the county under a contract negotiated after voters approved the Valley’s incorporation earlier this decade.

City officials contend they have been double-billed for prisoners between 2004 and 2007 by about $2 million. County officials contend they have been underpaid for staff expenses, including raises to deputies, and for a proportional share of the sheriff’s helicopter, since 2007; the bill would total about $2.2 million by the end of the year.

A forensic accountant who looked at records last year for the city came to the conclusion that the Valley had been double-billed, Munson said. “They’ve had our report since December.”

Rather than get into a battle of dueling consultants, Mielke said the county went to the office most familiar with government accounting, the state auditor. Neither government knows what the auditor concluded, and the county thought it made sense to have both sets of officials in the same room hearing the questions and answers together.

The auditor has been rescheduled to present his findings to the commissioners at one of their regular sessions on Tuesday afternoon. Valley city staff and possibly some elected officials, including Munson, are likely to attend. When they will talk about the results in joint session, however, remains to be seen.

Contact Jim Camden at jimc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5461.


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