The Spokane Valley City Council dealt quickly and efficiently with a lengthy agenda Tuesday night during the first council meeting since mid-November.
Public works director Neil Kersten gave presentations to the council on renewing three contracts – the street and storm water maintenance contract with Poe Asphalt and contracts with AAA Sweeping for street sweeping and dry well cleanout. The Poe contract is in its fourth year, Kerstin said. “Poe has done an excellent job,” he said.
Councilman Bill Gothmann questioned why the Poe contract was going up 12 percent when there was only a 4 percent increase in labor costs. The 2011 cost will be $1.5 million compared to $1.3 million in 2010. “We’ll be able to get more streets done,” Kersten said. “We did increase the budget a little bit. Our road system continues to deteriorate.”
Kersten noted that the Poe contract calls for the city to pay a few dollars above the prevailing wage. “That’s a lot of money on this contract,” said Councilman Dean Grafos.
It is a little higher but the company is extremely efficient, said Kersten, who added that he thinks the city is getting a good value. “We’re really happy with the cost,” he said.
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she would be in favor of hiring a local company to do the work. “I’d certainly like to see us use as many local businesses as possible,” she said.
Kersten said other cities have tried to give preferences to local companies with mixed results. “Typically there are a lot of legal issues,” he said.
The sweeping contract is little changed since it began several years ago. The city is able to get much more work done for the same $490,000 it used to pay Spokane County, Kersten said. “AAA is a lot more efficient and we haven’t had to increase these costs at all,” he said.
“They do an outstanding job,” Gothmann said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a city with such clean streets.”
The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee has made its recommendations for allocating lodging tax money to local agencies. The money can only be spent on organizations that promote tourism. The committee is suggesting giving $250,000 to the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, $165,000 to Spokane Regional Sports Commission, $40,000 to the HUB sports center, $36,000 to Valleyfest and $5,000 to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum.
The three street contracts and the lodging tax allocations are all scheduled to be voted on at the next council meeting on Dec. 14.
The annual update to the city’s master fee schedule was approved unanimously with Councilman Bob McCaslin absent. The fee for a binding site plan alteration was lowered to $278 from $1,474. The city also made some changes in how it charges for fulfilling public records requests, adding a $1 fee for each CD or DVD it hands out and setting a rate of $19 per hour for staff time to transfer scanned records to a CD.
In other business, a majority of council members expressed willingness to move forward with an effort to create railroad crossing quiet zones on the Park and Vista Road crossings of the Union Pacific line north of Trent, but it was apparent that any such effort would take years. A group of citizens previously presented the city with a petition of 170 signatures asking for the quiet zones.
“There’s not very many of these that have been done,” Kersten said of the zones. “There is quite a bit of cost to this. One of them does not have any crossing arms on it at all.”
The cost could range from $350,000 to $475,000 for the Park Road crossing, depending on whether the city chooses median curbing or a four-quadrant gate system. The same options on Vista Road would cost between $40,000 and $350,000 since that crossing already has crossing arms. Kersten said he has contacted Union Pacific. “Their review time alone is 12 to 16 months,” he said. “This is probably at least a two to three year process, quite a lot of staff time and consultant time.”
Mayor Tom Towey said he was disappointed to learn how long the process would take. “I think the question here is funding, of course,” he said. “The neighbors are suffering right now. Is there anything we can do?”
Kersten said he would have to research whether the city has any standing to investigate whether the railroad is blocking the intersections too long or blowing whistles too much. “My guess is they wouldn’t be very responsive to us,” he said. “We don’t have any authority.”
“Why not go ahead and start now?” said Councilwoman Rose Dempsey. “If the money is not there, we don’t have to move forward on this.”
Kersten said there would be costs associated with moving forward. He said he will prepare information on what the city can do in the short term and how much it will cost and bring it back to the council at a later date.