March 10, 2012 in Washington Voices

Intersections risky place for charities to collect, officials say

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Rules often violated

Spokane Valley police Chief Rick Van Leuven said the permits specify that no one is supposed to stand in the center median but his officers see violations of that all the time.

Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell recommended Tuesday that the city stop giving annual permits to charitable groups who collect donations at busy intersections because most of the groups are not following the required safety rules.

Roadside collections first began with firefighters and their annual Fill the Boot drive to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Driskell said. Groups are limited to one permit a year, and volunteers must be older than 18 and complete flagger training, if they will be entering the roadway. Organizations also have to get at least $1 million in insurance for each event.

“Over the last few years we’ve had more groups request a permit,” Driskell said. There is also apparently one group that does it every year without getting a permit, he said.

The firefighters try “earnestly” to follow all the requirements, Driskell said.

“I think it’s fair to say the other groups miss the mark,” he said. “We have concerns about the safety of folks out there.”

Spokane Valley police Chief Rick Van Leuven said the permits specify that no one is supposed to stand in the center median but his officers see violations of that all the time. One group had 25 people in one intersection. “Most of them were standing out in the median,” Van Leuven said. “The intersections that are picked are the busiest, highest traffic intersections.”

Standing on the road is dangerous even for someone who has training. Van Leuven said he was recently directing traffic at an accident scene, wearing the required reflective vest, when he was nearly hit by a car. It’s not the first time that has happened.

“I can’t keep track of the near misses,” he said. He believes it is only a matter of time before someone gets hit while trying to collect donations.

“We’re kind of playing Russian roulette and waiting for someone to get hit,” he said.

Even though the firefighters follow the rules, it’s not possible to allow them to do roadside donations and ban everyone else, Driskell said. He acknowledged that his recommendation would probably provoke a public response.

“I’m not going to be popular for bringing this up,” he said. “I’m going to be getting calls. You will be getting calls.”

“As a council member, I’m not going to second guess the chief when it comes to safety,” said Councilman Chuck Hafner. “If it’s a safety factor, we need to get rid of it.”

Councilman Dean Grafos said he was worried that granting permits opens up the city to legal liability. “Aren’t we at odds with our panhandling ordinance?” he said.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she didn’t want to penalize the group that was following the rules and asked if violators could be denied any further permits because they broke the rules. “I’d rather see a compromise position on it first,” she said.

The current ordinance doesn’t seem to be enforceable and the city needs to be consistent with its ordinance banning panhandling, said Mayor Tom Towey. He also brought up his volunteer work doing traffic control with SCOPE and agreed that being in the street is dangerous.

“When we go out for traffic control, we’re lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said. “You can see us from two miles away. I’ve had close calls out there.”

The council agreed to move forward with suspending the special permits while the issue is investigated further.

In other business, the council heard a report from Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke on a new regional animal control proposal. After a bond measure for a new regional facility failed at the polls in November, the county has been looking at existing properties that could be remodeled. Right now the County is looking at the old Harley-Davidson dealership at 6815 E. Trent Ave. Two buildings that came on the market in the last two weeks are also being looked at, Mielke said.

The estimated cost to buy and renovate the Harley-Davidson building is $4.5 million; the city of Spokane Valley would be asked to pay about $990,000 of that cost. The proposal depends on the participation of the city of Spokane, which would be asked to pay $2.25 million. Spokane County’s share would be $1.26 million.

“I’m coming to you as a partner and looking for guidance,” said Mielke.

“The voters have said no on this,” Grafos said. “Have we looked at any long-term financing?”

Mielke said Spokane staff members have suggested paying their share over 20 years as rent payments. “I think we’re open to fronting the cost and buying the building,” Mielke said. But in order to move forward the county needs to have agreements in place with Spokane Valley and Spokane, he said.

“I get the feeling we’re in the same situation we were in last time,” Towey said. “We’re being asked to make a commitment before we know all the details.”

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