The “Positive Change” council members were positively divided Tuesday night when it came to funding a precinct commander to assist the Spokane Valley Police Chief.
Ultimately, though, the council agreed to pay for the $153,000-a-year officer in a 5-2 vote. New Council Members Brenda Grassel and Bob McCaslin voted no, saying the position simply was too expensive at this time.
City officials said the precinct commander – who will act as a second-in-command and also serve as the city’s top cop in Chief Rick Van Leuven’s absence – will be paid for out funds dedicated to public safety until it can be incorporated into the overall police service contract with the Spokane County sheriff, which will be renegotiated this year.
This was the first meeting back for McCaslin, a longtime 4th District state senator, since Jan. 12. He was in Olympia for the legislative session but returned to Spokane Valley two weeks ago due to complications from an ongoing heart condition. It’s unknown when – or if – he will return to the state capital soon.
McCaslin, after being brought up to speed on the chief and sheriff’s desire to see the position created, wondered if the matter couldn’t be postponed until a new contract with the sheriff is signed.
“What’s the harm in waiting until (the contract) is done?” he asked.
After being told by acting City Manager Mike Jackson that there was “no harm,” McCaslin wanted to know, “What’s the hurry then?”
Jackson said the precinct commander, whose job duties will be determined by the sheriff and police chief, will effectively replace one of three lieutenant positions already in place at the Spokane Valley precinct. Due to a tight budget at the sheriff’s office, it’s possible that an otherwise qualified candidate could be transferred elsewhere if the city doesn’t make a decision soon.
The precinct commander position – who will also act as a liaison with the community and media in the chief’s absence -- was also supported in a recent review of Spokane Valley police services by ICMA in September.
“So you’re advocating this?” McCaslin asked Jackson.
“I’m do support it,” Jackson said. “I do believe it will be in the final contract.”
“He’s advocating for it,” McCaslin told the rest of the council. “I’m against it.”
Grassel said she understands the need for the position but worried about sustaining it in the future if city revenues continue to dip and costs rise in coming years, leading to a possible budget deficit.
“No doubt it’s a needed post, I’m just concerned about the funding,” she said.
Council Member Dean Grafos – also elected in November as a part of the Positive Change slate, which includes McCaslin and Grassel along with incumbent Gary Schimmels and Mayor Tom Towey – campaigned on a platform of controlled spending and keeping salary and staff positions in check.
While Grafos didn’t voice his support for creating the position at the meeting, earlier in the day he said he has always supported public safety in the city.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s a vitally essential service…it’s an essential position and really, really important.”
In other news, the council:
- unanimously agreed to withdraw from the Cable Advisory Board due to lack of participation and activity. The board -- which was formed to deliberate and resolve complaints and disagreements between franchisees and subscribers and advise on regulation of rates – had a quorum only once in 2009.
- unanimously agreed to transfer $1.5 million from the city’s civic facility fund to support full-width paving during this year’s Septic Tank Elimination Program projects that will take place over the summer months. Paving from curb to curb has been done throughout the existence of the STEP program as sewer lines are laid through neighborhoods added to sewer service. However, the old city road standards of 2 inches of asphalt will be implemented in order to keep costs down.
- unanimously agreed to formally suspend negotiations to purchase land at University City for the purpose of constructing a new City Hall. The council has the option of reopening talks with the owners of the shopping center after it reviews the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan and makes any changes.