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First-grade teacher wins Spokane Valley community award

Sat., Feb. 2, 2013, midnight

Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey handed out his first community recognition award Tuesday to Greenacres Elementary School first-grade teacher JoAnn Dowling.

As part of Spokane Valley’s 10th anniversary celebration, the city is honoring people, businesses and organizations who have made a positive difference in the community. The mayor will select a winner each month. Each winner will receive a certificate acknowledging their contributions and a key to the city.

“We need to recognize those efforts and activities,” Towey said during the council meeting.

Dowling was nominated for the award by Kim Johnson, the mother of one of Dowling’s former students. Johnson cited Dowling’s impact on children during her more than 30-year career at Greenacres Elementary and said Dowling has a “positive, encouraging spirit” and a “zest for life.”

Dowling made a brief statement before a room packed with co-workers, family members and Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small. She thanked Johnson for her nomination. “Your words have touched my heart in ways you can’t image,” she said as she fought back tears.

She said she was lucky to be a part of such a wonderful profession and to be able to work with students. “If I have touched their lives in some little way, they have touched my life even more.”

In other business, Bruce Rawls of the Spokane County Utilities Division spoke about efforts being taken by the Spokane County commissioners to collect delinquent sewer accounts. Spokane County provides sewer service to Spokane Valley residents.

The amount of money the county has tried to retrieve by filing liens against properties increased from $2.1 million in 2011 to nearly $3.1 million currently, Rawls said. “We realized we’ve got to do something to encourage people to pay their bill and in some cases force them,” he said.

The county cannot file a lien unless the account is at least 60 days past due and more than $600 is owed. It takes residential properties a lot longer than 60 days to reach the $600 threshold, he said. “If it’s a single family residence, chances are it’s 10 or 12 months past due,” he said.

If the delinquency continues, the lien can be recertified after another 60 days and another $600. “Some folks have been recertified 10 or 20 times,” he said.

There are several repeat offenders that are delinquent on more than one property. One woman in particular owns four properties and owes $38,000, Rawls said. “I think she’s never paid the bill since the first day we sent it,” he said.

The commissioners are considering a new measure to foreclose on properties that have at least 10 liens and owe more than $4,000 or owe $10,000 with two or more liens. Sewer customers will be sent letters about the new procedure in the coming weeks, Rawls said. “We’re calling this the soft warning letter,” he said.

The county does have procedures in place to help people who are behind get caught up, Rawls said, and plans to extend the amount of time allowed to catch up from six months to one year. “We’re hoping we’re doing things that will help people if they get behind,” he said.

Council members asked Rawls questions about sewer charges and how many people have yet to hook up to the system, but none voiced any objections to the county’s plan.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an interlocal agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation to use a Department of Ecology grant to build a decant facility on DOT property on the north side of Interstate 90 near the Pines Road exit. The facility would provide a place to drain water from the loads of material vacuumed up from drywells. The city and DOT will both pay part of the construction costs and both will split the annual operating costs. The DOT will run the facility.

Councilman Arne Woodard called the agreement a win for everyone involved and said it should help the city get caught up on its drywell maintenance. “When we started this a year ago I was dead set against it,” he said.

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