Court contract sustained

SATURDAY, NOV. 21, 2009

Council: County service still city’s best option

Spokane Valley will continue to contract with the Spokane County District Court for judicial service.

City Council members asked court officials some pointed questions Tuesday, then voted unanimously to rescind a cancellation notice.

The council issued the notice in January, about a month after county commissioners announced they would cancel the city’s contract for snow-plowing service.

Council members wanted to study alternatives to all their contacts with the county, but a consultant reported last month that the District Court is the city’s best choice.

The contract is to cost the city $920,000 this year.

Council members and City Manager Dave Mercier wanted to know how, in the face of heavy budget cuts, the court could continue to provide the same level of service to all its constituents.

City officials speculated that county commissioners and residents of unincorporated areas would object if city residents get better service under a contract.

District Court Judge Gregory Tripp and Court Administrator Virginia Rockwood said court officials would simply have to work harder.

With the loss of two court commissioners, judges would have to “double up and triple up” to handle all the cases, Rockwood said.

“We’re all in the soup, so to speak, economically, but we have an obligation to fulfill our part of the bargain,” Tripp said.

That includes continuing to hear Spokane Valley cases in the city, he said.

Court officials plan to seek efficiencies, such as a reduction in the number of continuances. But Tripp and Rockwood said police and prosecutors determine the court’s caseload, and judges are duty-bound to take all comers.

In other business, with Councilman Ian Robertson absent, the council unanimously passed an ordinance designed to provide affordable apartments by offering developers full-price “bonus” units in exchange for meeting higher standards and providing low-income apartments in the same project.

For the life of the project, regardless of ownership changes, rent on the low-income apartments can be no more than one-third of a family’s income.

Developers can get 40 to 60 percent density increases, according to the income level of “work force” tenants they agree to accept. At least half of the extra units must be for low-income tenants.

The council also unanimously approved an ordinance to tone down exterior lighting in residential areas.

A response to complaints, the ordinance requires lights to be shielded and aimed straight down. No glare from lights may be visible beyond a property line.

Lamp posts could be no taller than 24 feet in parking lots and 16 feet on pedestrian walkways. Public street lights would be exempt.

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