January 14, 2012 in Washington Voices

Asphalt contract renewed

Poe keeps business, after continued discussion, six council members agree
By The Spokesman-Review
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The Spokane Valley City Council renewed the city’s street maintenance contract Tuesday, but some council members appeared to do so reluctantly.

The contract, awarded in 2007 as a one-year contract with seven annual renewals, has been the topic of multiple discussions recently. Some council members said they were in favor of putting the contract out to bid again early to make sure the city was getting the best deal.

The discussions began after a representative of Spokane Rock Products said publicly that the company wanted the contract to be rebid. The company submitted a bid in 2007 but lost to Poe Asphalt.

Spokane Rock Products contributed to the re-election campaign of Councilman Dean Grafos.

Public Works Director Neil Kersten has said repeatedly that Poe Asphalt’s rates are competitive and that the 2012 contract price is 6.8 percent lower than in 2011. The decrease is due in large part to a drop in asphalt prices. The 2012 contract includes flat rates for equipment and a 0.3 percent increase in wages, he said.

“The wage rate you’re talking about is less than a 1 percent increase, but it is over the prevailing wage,” Grafos said.

Kersten said Poe pays the prevailing wage for some positions, but wages for other positions are set by union agreements. Councilman Chuck Hafner said he had talked to Kersten and City Manager Mike Jackson about the contract. “I’m still confused,” he said. “It’s so complex.

“I’ve been seeking a lot of additional research and help on this,” said Councilman Arne Woodard. “I don’t have a problem with the performance of Poe. I just think we’re paying too much.”

Councilman Ben Wick said Poe is asking for a good rate in comparison to what other contractors charge. “The bid for this contract is still very efficient for us,” he said. “The overall costs themselves seem to come out lower than the rest.”

Any changes to the contract should have been considered before the “eleventh hour,” said Councilman Gary Schimmels. He said he believes contractors would be unhappy and lose trust in the city if it were to deny a renewal when the contractor is doing a good job.

“Our employers are the citizens,” Grafos said. “I think we have a responsibility to look at these contracts.”

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel asked if Poe would continue to work under the 2011 rates if the council voted against renewing the contract. It would not, said City Attorney Cary Driskell. “You wouldn’t have a contract,” he said. “We wouldn’t have a current contract for snow removal.”

Hafner acknowledged that the council was having the contract discussions “pretty late in the year” and said he felt trapped into approving it. “I will vote yes simply because it would put people in a bad position,” he said.

In the end six of the council members voted to approve the contract renewal, with only Grafos voting no.

In other business, the council also voted unanimously to approve the renewal of the city’s street sweeping contract with AAA Sweeping. It was also awarded in 2007 for one year with seven annual renewal options. The contractor had suggested a 2 percent rate increase for 2012, but at the last meeting council members asked city staff to see if the contractor would accept a 1 percent increase instead. Kersten said the owner of AAA Sweeping apparently read about the council’s discussion in a newspaper story and called him to offer to reduce his rate. “Their total increase is 1 percent from last year,” Kersten said.

“That’s a win for the taxpayers,” Grafos said.

The council also agreed to participate in a traffic school run by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Participation will allow drivers who receive a traffic ticket in Spokane Valley to attend a six-hour class in exchange for having their ticket dismissed. It also means that the city will see about $50,000 less revenue from traffic fines every year, said senior administrative analyst Morgan Koudelka.

An ordinance allowing property boundary line adjustments to be completed without a new survey in some cases also was unanimously approved by the council.

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