Some close split decisions marked the Spokane Valley City Council meeting Tuesday as council members took a stand on whether to retain longtime community volunteer Peggy Doering on a city committee and whether to renew a street maintenance contract with Poe Asphalt.
Mayor Tom Towey recommended reappointing Doering, director of Valleyfest, to the Lodging Tax Advisory committee where she has served for several years. The committee recommends how hotel room taxes should be distributed to local organizations that use it to promote tourism and/or specific events. The committee includes a council member, two people representing facilities required to collect the tax and one person involved in activities likely to be funded by the tax.
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel, who chairs the committee, said she appreciates Doering’s work, but said it might be time to get a new voice on the committee.
“I would like to suggest we consider Keith Backsen or Philip Champlin for this position,” she said. Backsen represents the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Champlin represents the Valley HUB, the Liberty Lake sports center.
Councilman Dean Grafos agreed. “I think we should maybe have a change there,” he said.
Councilman Bob McCaslin joined Grasel and Grafos in voting against Doering’s appointment. She was confirmed by the three other council members and the mayor.
The council unanimously voted to also appoint Lee Cameron of the Mirabeau Park Hotel and Christine Cochran of the Pheasant Hill Inn to the advisory committee. The council also voted unanimously to approve the funding allocations recommended by the committee.
The recipients are: the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, $250,000; Spokane Regional Sports, $165,000; the HUB Sports Center, $40,000; Valleyfest, $36,000; and the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, $5,000.
In other business, Public Works Director Neil Kersten had three contracts for the council’s approval. The contracts for street sweeping and dry well cleaning with AAA Sweeping were unanimously approved, but some council members expressed concern with the contract with Poe Asphalt for street maintenance.
The contract, at $1.5 million, is about $200,000 higher than last year mostly because the city is asking for more work to be done, Kersten said. Poe wants to pass along a 4 percent pay increase for its union employees, but accepted a lower amount than they wanted for equipment rates, he said. The amount they charge per ton for asphalt is also significantly below the market rate. “Overall it’s a great contract,” he said.
Grafos noted that the street maintenance contract has increased by $300,000 in four years and said that the pay increase would make the city pay Poe workers more than the prevailing wage. “Why would we pay above the prevailing wage?” Grafos said.
Kersten said the wages were determined by union negotiations and apply to all local contractors, not just Poe. “Do we have the authority to negotiate those rates?” Grassel said.
“We don’t have a lot of direct control over union contracts,” Kersten said. The council does have the option to rebid the contract if they are not satisfied with the amounts, he said. The contract was awarded in 2007 and is subject to renewal annually.
“I think the situation has changed since 2007,” Grafos said.
Kersten said he believes Poe is very efficient and is able to get in and out of the city quickly, which is important because the contract is based on an hourly rate. They are better than other contractors he has worked with, Kersten said. “Poe has worked with us and done an outstanding job,” he said. “These guys have performed at the top level.”
Grafos said he would like to rebid the contract. Grassel said the city should tell Poe to lower the wages or the city would rebid it. “I’d say that we have the leverage,” she said.
The new wages will only account for between $15,000 and $30,000 of the contract cost, Kersten said. “It’s still an increase,” Grafos said.
Councilman Gary Schimmels said the council should move ahead for now and could discuss whether to put the contract out for a new bid during the council’s winter retreat in February. “I don’t see a big material discrepancy here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s out of reason.”
Council members Bill Gothmann and Rose Dempsey joined Towey and Schimmels in voting to approve the contract with Poe. Grafos, Grasel and McCaslin voted against it.
The council also discussed an agreement on the collection of Aquifer Protection Area fees with Spokane County. The current agreement states that a portion of the fees, which have been used to lower sewer fees charged by Spokane County, will start coming directly to the city in 2011.
Kersten said the city originally planned to use those fees for stormwater improvements and have kept the stormwater fees charged to citizens low in anticipation of receiving the money. The current charge is $21 a year for residential customers. “We are actually the lowest fee in the state,” he said.
But the county is saying that if the city keeps the money, Spokane Valley residents would see their sewer bills go up $1.12 a month, Kersten said. The other consideration is that if the city allows the county to use the money to lower sewer rates, it will have to raise stormwater rates to $26 a year. The storm water system is in bad shape and needs improvements, he said.
Grafos asked if the money could be used to improve drainage along Sprague. “We’d probably focus on the main arterials,” Kersten said.
Either way, Spokane Valley residents will see some sort of fee increase, whether it’s $5 a year for stormwater or $13.44 a year for sewer. The fees would impact businesses differently because they are charged differently for stormwater and sewer.
McCaslin said he would rather go with the fee that has the least impact on residential customers rather than the one that would be of more benefit to business owners like Grafos. “I’d rather have him mad at me rather than the entire population,” he said.
The issue will come back to the council for a vote at a later date.
After nearly a year of discussion, the council voted to spend $100,800 on equipment, labor and internet hosting fees in 2011 to broadcast City Council meetings on cable and over the internet. A fee paid by Comcast customers would pay for $60,000 of equipment; the remainder would come from the city’s general fund.
Schimmels and McCaslin voted against the expenditure. McCaslin said he is afraid that the effort will cost much more. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “In future years this will continue to grow. I don’t know how many people are going to watch this.”