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Thursday, February 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Valley council discusses police service contract

If it will cost taxpayers $75,000 to provide identical uniforms that read Spokane Valley Police Department, and “Police” not “Sheriff” across the back, is it worth it? What about painting police cruisers Spokane Valley’s signature ice blue color at an estimated $6,500 a pop?

Those were just some of the many law enforcement-related questions the Spokane Valley City Council began to address at its meeting Tuesday evening, when acting city manager Mark Calhoun and senior administrative analyst Morgan Koudelka presented a 132-page staff report on the law enforcement contract Spokane Valley has with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Calhoun said it’s timely to begin the conversation now: The city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office ends Dec. 31, 2017.

The contract runs in four-year increments and automatically renews unless either party terminates or changes it, but Koudelka reminded the council that the city is not locked into another four-year term until that term begins.

“That means the city could give notice as late as Dec. 31, 2017, if we wanted to,” Koudelka said. “There’s been some confusion around that.”

Koudelka said the four-year term was adopted in 2010 when both Spokane Valley and the Sheriff’s Office desired a longer contract – the sheriff for planning purposes and to be able to amortize equipment, and the city to be able to better evaluate the contract.

Councilman Ed Pace, who’s stated many times that he wants a shorter contract – perhaps down to two years – said the most important aspect for him is to get away from automatic renewal.

Councilman Sam Wood agreed. “I don’t think automatic renewal is appropriate,” he said.

Councilman Arne Woodard proposed a sliding 18-month window for termination of the contract to begin when the contract is a year old. He said that would allow for a two-and-a-half year contract period where nothing would change.

Koudelka suggested working more specific termination clauses into a renewed contract would leave the council with more control.

That prompted City Attorney Cary Driskell to remind the council that the 18-month termination period also protects the city.

“If we want our own police department there has to be enough time for a transition,” Driskell said.

The contract calls for the Spokane Valley Police Department to have a distinct identity separate from the Sheriff’s Office.

“I don’t know why there is so much angst around this,” Woodard said. “This is not something the four of us came up with over the last four months.”

Koudelka said uniforming the Spokane Valley Police Department would cost $75,000 plus an extra $50,000 for deputies who work just some shifts in Spokane Valley. Repainting cruisers ice blue would cost around $6,500 a vehicle, because the color has been discontinued.

“The question really is: Do you want separate uniforms? Do you want separate colors on the cars?” Koudelka asked.

Councilman Bill Gothmann, who was participating in his last meeting, said he’s fine with that, if people want to pay for it.

Wood said he believes clearly identifying the Spokane Valley Police Department as such will be a big step toward creating the city identity Valley residents are asking for.

“We are the Spokane Valley because people here didn’t want to be Spokane or Spokane County,” Wood said. “We are safe, the sheriff is doing a great job – the issue is identity.”

Pace, who’s usually opposed to anything that will cost taxpayers money, agreed that a unified Spokane Valley look is important for city identity.

Everyone laughed when Pace said, in this case, he could be bought.

The meeting ran until past 10 p.m. as Calhoun and Koudelka worked their way through the detailed report which also covered police oversight – there was broad council agreement that the complaint process needs to be explained better – and comparing cost with cities of similar size.

The council will now formalize goals for the contract negotiation during its regular meetings, agree on a timeline and set up a joint meeting with the council, county commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Valley police chief to discuss how to fill open officer spots, retain officers and plan for upcoming retirements.

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