October 1, 2009 in Washington Voices

City, county tense over contracts

County budget staff ‘frustrated’ by challenges over contracts for police, jail, other services
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A harsh exchange Tuesday revealed that Spokane Valley’s contracts for county service are in more peril than previously acknowledged.

County Commissioner Mark Richard said after Tuesday’s City Council meeting that the county budget staff is “frustrated beyond belief.”

“They’d just as soon get out of contracting with Spokane Valley altogether,” Richard said, citing numerous city challenges over contracts for police, jail, court, animal-control and other services.

“If not for the commissioners, I can assure you that would have been done by now,” he said.

Mayor Rich Munson said he told Richard two weeks ago that, “if it’s going to come to that, we’ll deal with it, but let’s do it in a professional manner. Let’s work things out so that the impacts are minimized on both sides.”

Richard said he didn’t speak for county department heads such as Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich or Utilities Director Bruce Rawls, whose regional programs require cooperation with Spokane Valley.

Police protection would be reduced in Spokane Valley and unincorporated portions of Spokane County unless their governments continue sharing resources neither could afford alone, according to Knezovich.

And Rawls is building a multimillion-dollar sewage treatment plant the city needs to prevent a construction moratorium.

“Eighty percent of that facility is to serve Spokane Valley, so we clearly cannot afford to have that unraveled,” Richard said. “That’s what scares me. That’s exactly what the danger is” if the war of words continues.

His and Munson’s comments sprang from a report to the City Council in which city administrative analyst Morgan Koudelka listed a number of contract “surprises” and “violations.”

Koudelka said city residents “recognize quality services provided by the county,” but some county officials feel “we question everything they do.”

He called for quarterly meetings to share information and work out problems, which was one thing on which Munson and Richard agreed.In an interview outside the council chambers, Richard offered a relatively mild criticism of Koudelka’s report and called for both sides to improve communications.

Later, he called The Spokesman-Review with a scathing assessment of the city’s diplomacy.

“If the mayor really wants to maintain these contractual relationships, if he really wants to improve how we’re doing things, then actions need to start following words,” Richard said.

Airing a list of complaints at a public meeting is not the way to improve relations, he said.

When asked about Richard’s remarks, Munson responded in kind.

City officials “held out our hand tonight” with a commitment to improve relations with the county, “but it’s pretty obvious he has no desire to do that,” Munson said.

He acknowledged during an interview Monday that Koudelka’s report had potential to exacerbate city-county tensions, but said he hoped county officials wouldn’t take offense.

He said everything Koudelka planned to say “has been documented,” and he felt “very comfortable defending the positions that staff has come up with.”

Koudelka said in his report that the city wasn’t notified when the county shifted the cost of electronic home monitoring from criminal defendants to the city, nor when cost-of-living raises added substantially to the city’s police bill.

“It would make sense that they would share that with you before they give you a bill,” Munson said Tuesday.

Richard said he told Munson that “your staff knew full well in the middle of 2008 that we passed cost-of-living increases. How can you sit there at the podium and hear a presentation that it was a surprise?”

Richard said he also complained to Munson about Koudelka’s assertion that county officials improperly calculated depreciation costs on equipment.

The county staff asked the city staff to comment on the proposed depreciation method about six months ago, but got no response, according to Richard.

He said he thinks the city staff isn’t keeping the City Council fully informed.

Munson was still rankled by the surprise telephone message he received from Richard during a meeting last December, informing him that the county planned to cancel the city’s contract for snow removal.

When that happened, the city was already withholding part of its payment for police service because of reports by Koudelka and a private accounting firm that the county was charging too much for overhead.

The state auditor’s office reported in June that it found the city’s analysis seriously flawed. City officials agreed to pay more than $1.1 million they had withheld and to resume paying their full bill, but didn’t abandon their claim.

“We need to get together and hash out this issue,” Richard said. “But we’ve gotten no response except that they’ve filed a public records request asking for all of our documentation back to 2006.”

Richard said county staffers offered to help city officials find what they wanted without such a time-consuming approach, but were told, “No, we want it all, and we want it all photo copied.”

Munson said he was “really disappointed” in Richard’s remarks.

“I don’t think the tone in our meeting tonight was argumentative nor was it confrontational,” Munson said. “I wish I could say the same for him.”


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