December 31, 2011 in Washington Voices

Snow plowing policy discussed

Council also considers contract renewal with street sweeping company
By The Spokesman-Review
Sworn in

New City Council member Ben Wick was sworn in Tuesday along with re-elected incumbents Dean Grafos and Arne Woodard. Outgoing Councilman Bill Gothmann, who has been involved with the city as a planning commissioner and council member since 2003, was recognized by Mayor Tom Towey in appreciation for his “faithful service.”

The point at which the city should plow the residential streets on the Valley floor was the subject of some discussion during Tuesday’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting.

Councilman Dean Grafos recommended changing the city’s policy to require plowing of the residential areas when four inches of snow falls while other council members seemed to favor only slightly tinkering with the policy’s language.

The current policy calls for residential plowing when traffic flow is “substantially inhibited.” When that is depends in part on the outside temperature and the moisture level in the snow, said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. “It’s just kind of as conditions warrant,” he said. “We monitor how many complaints we’re getting. As people with two-wheel drive cars are having trouble getting around, we instigate a full plow.”

A full-city plow takes two days and costs around $60,000 for the contract graders that plow the residential streets, Kersten said.

Mayor Tom Towey suggested simply taking out the word “substantially” to make the policy clearer. Councilman Bill Gothmann said the previous council deliberately did not specify how many inches would trigger a full plow. “They did not make it because of funding,” he said.

Grafos said he thought it would be best for citizens for the city to set a specific number of inches that would require plowing. “If there’s five or six inches on the Valley floor, we should plow it,” he said. “I think that’s a safety issue.”

“If we put it down in black and white and we do it, our costs will go up,” Kersten said. “It takes away the flexibility we have. If we get four inches and are projected for a warming trend the next day, it would be foolish to go out and plow those streets.”

The council agreed to bring the policy back, reflecting the suggestion Towey made for approval.

During the meeting the council also discussed the renewal of the city’s street sweeping contract with AAA Sweeping. The one-year contract with seven annual renewals was awarded in 2007.

“They have requested a two percent across the board increase,” said Kersten. “It’s well under the inflation rate.”

Despite the fact that there aren’t many companies that provide such sweeping services, Kersten said the rates seem reasonable. Grafos suggested limiting the increase to one percent.

“This particular company has performed well,” said Towey. “I don’t think two percent is out of line.”

Councilman Arne Woodard agreed that the city should ask for the one percent increase. “I don’t think it’s out of line to ask for one percent,” he said. “If you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it.”

City Manager Mike Jackson said it is up to city staff to negotiate contracts and that he would feel more comfortable asking the contractor if the costs could be lowered rather than demanding a specific percentage.

In other business, the council unanimously voted to provide free health insurance for themselves and their dependents. Councilwoman Brenda Grassel was absent.

When the city incorporated it paid for the health insurance of employees and council members. In 2006 the council passed a resolution that set new employee contributions for health insurance. During council discussions language was added to the resolution stating the city would pay 100 percent of the premium of the lower cost health plan for each council member and their spouse and dependents. That language was never put into practice, said City Manager Mike Jackson.

This week the council voted with no discussion to change the resolution to allow council members to pick either of the city’s two health plans at no cost to themselves.

The council also unanimously approved the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would allow some simple property boundary line adjustments without an official survey being required. Surveys would still be required in some cases.

“I think it’s a great addition,” said Gothmann. “This is something we needed to correct.”

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