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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Valley considers privatizing parks, libraries

The Spokane Valley City Council decided Tuesday to invite private companies to compete for the city’s 2005 library and parks maintenance contracts.

That means library patrons soon could be checking out books from a business rather than the Spokane County Library District, which has served residents for years. Or, the district could win the contract by offering better services at a lower price than the competition proposes.

Rather than hiring Spokane County to mow lawns and pick up trash at the city’s parks, a private business or other government entity could be doing those jobs next spring.

Either way, allowing businesses to compete for city service contracts under a system called “managed competition” could be Spokane Valley’s future modus operandi.

Councilman Richard Munson predicted that opening up the library contract to competition would garner some attention.

“I think it’s important that we assure the public that we’re not going out to replace the library system,” unless another option proves cost-effective, Munson said.

The city already invited a private firm from Maryland to study the local library district’s operations. It did so to ensure that viable competition existed, a factor in choosing which services to include in this year’s pilot program, said Morgan Koudelka, the city’s administrative analyst.

Valley branch manager Ellen Miller said after Tuesday’s council meeting that she and district director Mike Wirt had given the company a tour of the library and told them about the district’s operations earlier this spring.

Miller said she couldn’t say what sorts of differences patrons would see in a private library versus a public one until she sees the contract requirements that the city plans to release in July. She said, though, that one of the benefits of being served by a local district is that it knows its patrons.

“(An outside firm) won’t be as aware of the community,” Miller said.

The district conducted a scientific survey of 400 patrons last month. The survey found that 98 percent were satisfied with services at their favorite branch. The district is in the process of writing a capital facilities plan that will outline its vision for future growth. It’s considering building a new, bigger branch in Spokane Valley and moving the Argonne branch south of Trent Avenue, putting it within the Spokane Valley city limits.

During 2004 contract negotiations, the council pushed for that plan to be done this summer, and city officials have said they will weigh the study results when considering a 2005 contract with the district. The city also informed the district that it would be looking for ways to improve library services and reduce costs, whether through negotiations with the district, through starting a city library or seeking an outside provider.

Since incorporation, council members have said they were interested in inviting private companies to compete for city service contracts. If the pilot program goes well, more contracts could be open to competition, council members have said.

In other council news, about 70 members of the Radio Controlled Car Club of Spokane packed Council Chambers to support the track they operate at Sullivan Park. The city stopped the club from installing lights there last week because members didn’t have permission for the work.

The council voted to negotiate a license for the club to use the track for the rest of the year. Council members offered suggestions for improving the current lighting or putting up temporary lighting. Parks and Recreation Director Mike Jackson said he didn’t want the group making substantial changes at the track until the council approves a master parks plan this year. He doesn’t know what Sullivan Park’s future use will be.

Some club members said during a break in the meeting that they weren’t satisfied by the council’s response. Rick Pyle, 35, of Hayden Lake, Idaho, argued that the track was best suited for the park, which sits in the middle of an industrial area.

Also in question was whether a race scheduled for this weekend would continue, despite the club applying for a facility-use permit late in the game. Jackson indicated that he was close to approving the event.

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