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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Our View: County wrong to abruptly cancel snow contract

After last month’s record snowfall, followed by this month’s flooding and runoff worries, local government officials have no time to be worrying now about plowing demands for next winter.

But that’s a worry the city of Spokane Valley can’t afford to put on hold.

A month ago, without warning, Spokane County served notice it would cancel the contract under which it provides snow removal on Spokane Valley’s 430 miles of city streets. The cancellation is effective next Oct. 15, meaning nothing changes for this snow season. But officials of the 6-year-old municipality still don’t know what they’ll do for the winter of 2009-10, especially if it proves to be anything like the preceding two.

It’s not as though the city can order out for graders and other heavy equipment as if it were pizza. Gearing up for that kind of operation takes time; and lining up private-sector contractors to assume snow-removal responsibilities for Washington state’s seventh largest city is not as simple as calling a temp agency when the receptionist calls in sick.

No wonder that Spokane Valley Mayor Rich Munson talks about a breakdown in trust between the city and county. And no wonder that Spokane Valley’s City Council has started scrutinizing 17 other services – including law enforcement and courts – for which it relies on the county as a vendor. The abrupt loss of snow-removal service has signaled them that they’d be smart to have some contingency plans.

County officials have concluded that the agreement, which goes back to 2003 and previously covered a year-round agenda of street work, isn’t in their interest any longer, now that the scope has been scaled back to just plowing, road signs and striping. If that explanation irks Spokane Valley leaders, they’re justified. The contract curtailments cited to justify last month’s unexpected move were made at the county’s request.

At least when the county decided it wanted to drop some of the summer work it was doing for Spokane Valley, it agreed to a three-year phase-out, allowing the municipality to effect a smooth transition as it lined up other resources. A similar consideration would have been in order with respect to snow removal. It’s still in order if county officials are reasonable enough to reconsider the abruptness of their decision.

The residents of Spokane Valley, after all, are county residents, too. And taxpayers. And voters.

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