April 1, 2010 in Washington Voices

Sheriff’s contract scrutinized

Increasing cost gets City Council’s attention
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The law enforcement contract between the city of Spokane Valley and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office got some attention from Spokane Valley City Council members uesday as acting City Manager Mike Jackson asked for direction on some negotiating items.

The contract has been in place since 2003 and has been renewed annually since then. Some Council members were concerned about the ever increasing cost of the contract, which started at $11.5 million in 2003 and reached $15.2 million in 2009. The contract includes both employee salaries and indirect costs such as benefits, equipment, special task forces and other items. “As the county reduces the number of unincorporated officers, we pay a larger and larger share of the indirect costs,” Jackson said.

The only way to save a major amount of money would be to reduce the number of officers the city pays for, Jackson said. City Council member Dean Grafos asked if there were some areas the city could be more efficient in as a way to save money.

Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leuven said he is looking for ways to cut costs. “I do believe there are efficiencies,” he said. “One of those is the alarm ordinance.” The new false alarm ordinance charges people a fine for every false alarm and is expected to both save staff time and help the police recover their costs in responding to the false alarms.

Jackson also asked the Council if they wanted to insert performance measures into the contract, such as setting recommended response times and specifying how many officers should work each shift. Mayor Tom Towey said he would recommend letting the sheriff have discretion over how many officers should work each shift, but is open to the other suggestions. “I certainly think some performance measures are good,” he said.

The Council also seemed agreeable to extending the term of the contract from one year to possibly as many as five years. “I think we should at least go with a three-year contract,” Grafos said.

Jackson also asked whether the Council wanted to continue requiring officers to drive cars marked with the Spokane Valley logo and wear Spokane Valley uniforms and patches. That was a stipulation in the original contract.

Council member Rose Dempsey said she was in favor of maintaining those requirements. “I like having our own police department,” she said. “I think it’s important to our community.”

Van Leuven said that special uniforms and cars do cost more money. “The more you want, the more the cost factor will be,” he said.

Towey said crime victims will focus on the officer, not what car they are driving or what uniform they wear. “We’ve got to look at the bottom line,” he said. “The victim isn’t going to look at the patch.”

The Council also discussed setting up an interlocal agreement with the city of Airway Heights to provide some planning services. The Airway Heights City Manager approached the city about having city staff handle plan reviews for Airway Heights, said Jackson. “They’re kind of between staff right now,” Jackson said.

An Airway Heights employee would handle the meetings with applicants and then forward the plans to Spokane Valley staff for review, Jackson said. Airway Heights is asking to pay slightly less than what Spokane Valley charges its residents. “They’re doing some of the up front work,” Jackson said.

The number of plans Spokane Valley would review is expected to be about 40 residential applications and five commercial applications this year. The contract would last through the end of this year and shouldn’t impact the work load of Spokane Valley staff, Jackson said. “We won’t add staff to accomplish this,” he said. “Any added revenue we bring in is net revenue for the city.”

The Council agreed to consider a motion on the proposed interlocal agreement at a future meeting.

In other business, the Council also heard a report on construction of the Barker Bridge, which is expected to be complete in late June. The new bridge is twice as wide and will include a lane of traffic in each direction plus a center lane, bicycle lanes, sidewalks and a parking lane on the northbound side.


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