Spokane County commissioners approved Tuesday a $277.8 million 2006 budget.
The general fund portion of the 2006 budget – which includes public safety, parks and the county assessor, auditor and treasurer’s departments – came to $133.7 million, up from 2005’s $125 million in expenses.
Commissioners approved several last minute changes, including raises for three of the county’s top non-elected officials.
County CEO Marshall Farnell’s salary will be boosted about 5 percent to $106,000 per year. Chief Operations Officer Gerry Gemmill is getting an 8 percent pay raise to $98,124. And Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jim Emacio, who acts as the commissioners’ legal adviser, will receive a 10 percent pay boost to $98,124.
Most county employees are getting 2 percent cost of living adjustments in the new year.
Other additions included $70,000 for a new public information officer and money for additional help in the county’s new labor relations department.
The portions of the 2006 budget outside the general fund include self-supporting departments like building and planning, utilities and the fairgrounds.
Cigarette likely cause of fire
Spokane fire investigators determined Tuesday that a cigarette was most likely the cause of a blaze Friday morning in which a retired sheriff’s deputy died.
A medical examiner’s autopsy concluded Rick Starr, 56, died of smoke inhalation, said Lt. Chris Phillips of the Spokane Fire Department.
It was the third fire fatality this year for the Spokane Fire Department, the most since 2001, officials said.
Fire investigators found a glass-bottomed ashtray on Starr’s kitchen table at 104 W. Park Place where they think a cigarette was improperly discarded, Phillips said. A vinyl tablecloth and papers near the ashtray were set ablaze shortly after midnight.
Starr was unable to escape, officials said. He was found about 10 feet from the front door of his two-story brick home.
A second, unrelated fire, after crews responded to the first, is considered suspicious, Phillips said. Investigators think someone broke into the home sometime after 5 a.m. and possibly started the blaze that gutted the second story of the home.
Spokane lawyer suspended
Olympia The state Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended Spokane lawyer Gail Schwartz from practicing law.
Schwartz, 52, has refused to cooperate with a state bar association investigation into a client’s complaints. It was the second complaint against Schwartz in recent months. Both clients said she did little or no legal work. One says she refuses to relinquish control of about $300,000 of his money while he serves out a prison sentence in Idaho.
Schwartz “is suspended from the practice of law pending compliance” with the bar association’s request for documents related to one of the cases, Chief Justice Gerry Alexander wrote. If she later complies, she can petition the court to lift the suspension.
In an interview last month, Schwartz acknowledged problems with her legal casework and said she was overwhelmed by personal and professional demands. In a letter to the bar association, she also said that she was discouraged by the lack of justice and fairness in the legal system.
“To be honest, I am tired of fighting both personal and legal battles,” she wrote.
Violators to see more monitoring
Olympia Offenders who violate probation or parole will face stepped-up electronic monitoring, including satellite tracking, under a pilot project being launched in three counties.
The 2005 Legislature ordered state corrections and law enforcement officials to develop the system, which must track 100 offenders by the end of next year.
Officials said Tuesday that the system, designed for low-risk offenders, is being phased in for Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties. It eventually will be expanded statewide.
The program includes conventional monitoring with radio frequency transmitters, which work at an offender’s home. But it also will use more advanced Global Positioning System units, which use satellites to track an offender’s movements.
The “passive” GPS systems will reveal where an offender has traveled when the person connects his monitoring equipment to a reporting center through a phone line, officials said.
Remote alcohol testing technology also will be used, officials said.
The state Department of Corrections will supervise offenders while the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs administers the program.
Santa seeks apology from fake
Springfield, Ore. Impostor Santa Clauses aren’t welcome at the Springfield Community Parade.
In six of the past seven years, the parade’s designated Santa has been Springfield resident Ray Jamison.
But during last weekend’s parade, another man donned a Saint Nick suit and rode through the parade route – in a makeshift tank turret.
Gary Swindler said he didn’t know about the rule barring other Santas, and that he wanted only to pay tribute to troops fighting in Iraq, and to a family member and combat veteran who died recently.
But Jamison, the true Santa, was approached by plenty of people who wanted to know why he would mix Santa and weapons.
He’s upset about the mistake, and a parade official wants Swindler to write a letter of apology to local media.
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