The special guest at this week’s Spokane Valley City Council had four paws and a wagging tail. Spokane Valley Fire Department fire investigator Rick Freier brought his K-9 partner Mako to the council chambers for a demonstration of his skills as an arson dog.
“His job is to find accelerants,” Freier said. “He’s very good at it.”
Mako will sniff a fire scene and if he finds traces of gasoline, alcohol or anything that can be used an accelerant, he’s been trained to sit. If Freier is not sure what he is alerting on, he orders Mako to show him where. Mako responds by pointing with his nose or otherwise indicating what he’s found.
During the demonstration Freier had several high school students line up, each with a small open vial held by their side. One contained gasoline. When he found which one it was, he grabbed it out of the student’s hand, dropped it on the ground and sat. He also sniffed several metal cans containing various burned items and identified the one with traces of gasoline in it.
Mako also is useful as a way to draw people in, Freier said. He’s particularly effective at attracting the interest of preteen and younger teenage boys who are more likely to experiment with setting fires, he said. “They’re not too impressed with a badge or a firetruck anymore,” he said. “He gets the people to come to us.”
The council members seemed enthusiastic to see Mako at work, maneuvering for a better view. After the demonstration was over, it was back to work. Two Eastern Washington University professors gave a lengthy presentation on regional and consolidated governments and how those governments work economically. EWU conducted a study on the issue at the request of the city of Spokane and Spokane County, which at one time were considering combining.
“There’s a lot of different ways to go about doing this,” said Kevin Pirch. “Every community is a unique community.”
Such combinations of city and county governments usually take place in counties that are geographically small. A city can continually annex county land until the county is mostly inside the city limits. A new regional government can be created to address specific issues like transportation and sanitation.
Governments can create interlocal agreements with one another, with one entity providing a service such as animal control to both while with other provides fire service to both. “This is becoming increasingly attractive in this country,” Pirch said.
But studies have repeatedly shown that there is little to no financial benefit to consolidation, said Grant Forsyth. In cases where there are financial savings, that money is usually spent on new services or improving services, which leaves taxpayers paying the same or more. “There’s really no impact after consolidation,” he said. “There’s just simply no evidence.”
In other business, the council voted unanimously to change the way it allocates funds from a federal energy grant. Money had been set aside to partially pay the cost of an energy audit from Avista Utilities, which examines how electricity is being used in a home and how residents can be more energy efficient.
Homeowners were paying $99 out-of-pocket, but because of the low number of audits the council voted to reduce homeowner costs to $50 in the hopes that more people will take advantage of the service.
Councilmembers Bill Gothmann and Gary Schimmels also gave a report on regional solid waste meetings the two have been attending. There is a proposal being considered that all cities in Spokane County would combine to create a nonprofit that would be responsible for disposal of solid waste, disposal of green waste and recycling. The group would be set up with a series of interlocal agreements. The proposal is something the city should consider carefully, Gothmann said. “It probably has some warts,” he said.
While the proposal may benefit the city, Gothmann said the city should also explore other options. “It’s got some good things about it,” he said. “It does require some careful study.”
A draft interlocal agreement should be ready in a week or two and then brought to the council for consideration, Gothmann said.
At the end of the meeting, the council agreed to cancel the council meeting scheduled for Tuesday. “We only have two administrative reports,” said Mayor Tom Towey.
“I’d be OK with a night off,” said Councilman Arne Woodard.