There was a bit of hemming and hawing – and even the potential loss of Spokane Valley’s snowplow crew – but the City Council agreed Tuesday to keep its longstanding street-maintenance contract.
At the council’s Dec. 27 meeting, Council Member Dean Grafos said he had interest in potentially reopening the bidding process for street maintenance, citing concerns that the company that holds the contract – Poe Asphalt -- is paying some positions more than the Washington state prevailing wage and it was costing the city more money.
The matter came up after a representative from Spokane Rock Products – a company that contributed to Grafos’ election campaign – approached the council last year, saying he wanted the contract to go out for bid again.
However, Neil Kersten, city public works director, said he has been pleased with the work Poe had done, not only maintaining city streets during the summer months but also in its efforts to man the city’s snowplow equipment during the winter.
The matter had been discussed by the council during its budget process several months ago, and little or no concerns were raised at that time.
The contract was given to Poe in 2007 to encompass seven years with one-year renewable options, which were passed by the council in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The contract cost the city $1.5 million in 2011 and would remain at that amount in 2012. Another $140,000 would be added for snowplow services, and the total contract would not exceed $1.6 million.
Kersten added that the overall cost of the contract is expected to drop by 6.8 percent from 2011 as Poe attempts to be competitive. The cost of materials is expected to drop by nearly 12 percent, offsetting the cost of labor, which would go up only slightly.
The only prevailing wage that is greater than the state standard is for two positions, Kersten said.
Council Member Chuck Hafner said that he was “still confused” in going through the contract, citing “errors” in some areas.
“I’m still debating whether to vote for this,” he said.
Arne Woodard said he was also unsure, but said he “didn’t have a problem with Poe” as a company or the work it was doing.
Newest Council Member Ben Wick said the council needed to consider its relationship with longstanding contractors and what it might mean to sever a contract midstream.
“We’re only a new city once,” he said. “We don’t want to ruin our reputation.”
Grafos said it’s the responsibility of city staff to make sure that Spokane Valley is getting the most out of its contracts with service providers.
“We are a contract city,” he said, adding that the city shouldn’t be impacted if a company wants to pay more than the state prevailing wage during tough economic times. “I don’t see why, as a city, we should be paying more. For that reason, I’m voting against it.”
Council Member Brenda Grassel asked for clarification on the ramifications of not renewing the contract. City Attorney Cary Driskell said that Poe would then be under no obligation to continue working for Spokane Valley in 2012 – including operating city snowplows.
“The legal consequence is we wouldn’t have a contract,” he said.
“(Poe) would pack up their trucks and leave?” Grassel asked.
“There would be nothing enforceable” to stop them, Driskell said.
Hafner then said he would vote for the contract – and was supported by every council member except Grafos.
“I will vote yes,” Hafner said, but said he had felt he’d been put in a “bad position.”
The council, however, swiftly and unanimously passed its street sweeping contract with AAA Sweeping, which would not exceed $490,000 – a 1-percent increase over 2011.
In other news, the council also unanimously agreed to participate with the Spokane Valley Sheriff’s Office traffic school, which allows ticketed motorists the opportunity to receive education on traffic laws and safe-driving techniques. The infractions are then waived upon successful completion of the class, meaning there is no effect on individual insurance rates.
While the operating costs would be supported by those paying fees to attend the classes, the city is estimated to lose about $53,000 each year in infraction revenue from tickets.
“I think this is a great thing for the city,” Woodard said. “I really hope this works out.”