While Spokane County officials are giddy over finally reaching an agreement with the city of Spokane over the future of the regional solid waste system, the Spokane Valley City Council made itself clear Monday that it wasn’t hopping on board just yet.
“Any long-term agreement entered into by the city of Spokane Valley must result in the lowest possible cost, and (the city must) retain control over future rates and policy for our citizens,” said Mayor Dean Grafos.
Regional partnerships – whether for wastewater or animal control – have been nothing new for Spokane Valley in the years since it incorporated. But they’ve often taken time to work out, and county commissioners pressed the council during a Monday joint meeting that time was running out to make a decision.
“We’re up against a deadline of November,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said, indicating that’s when the current interlocal agreement between the county and Spokane ends. At that point city leaders will turn over control of the regional trash system – along with ownership of the Valley and Colbert transfer stations – for $9.9 million.
Spokane, however, will retain ownership of the West Plains Waste-to-Energy Plant and will require the county to burn the trash it collects there for at least the next three years while the transfer stations are paid off. During that time, the county can explore other options for disposing of solid waste, including hauling it out of the region via rail.
County officials stressed that garbage rates will likely remain in the neighborhood of $100 per ton, which is what operators of garbage trucks pay when they dump at the plant. However, a better deal could be worked out in the future as other options are explored – or if more jurisdictions agree to a regional pact.
When pressed for more details by council members, commissioners said they were waiting for bids to come in from potential contractors willing to run the day-to-day operations of the system. That information may not be available until the end of March, but the state deadline for the adoption of a solid-waste plan could require a commitment from the city before then.
“The process is taking longer than I thought it would,” Mielke said. “I would have liked to have been here six to eight months ago.”
One of the hang-ups in the county’s negotiations with Spokane officials has been the ownership of the transfer stations. Had a deal not been reached, Spokane County would have been in the unenviable position of having to site and build – with likely public outcry – new facilities at about twice the cost.
“Meanwhile, the existing ones would have gone dark,” said Board Chairman Al French.
Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard indicated he would be leery of a long-term commitment to a regional system that did not allow for Spokane Valley to develop its own means of disposing of solid waste – such as the city of Cheney has – without some sort of opt-out clause.
Council Member Ed Pace added that it would be difficult to sign any agreement without knowing what the cost would be to Spokane Valley ratepayers.
“It feels like closing escrow on a house without knowing the total price,” he said.
Council Member Chuck Hafner said that, as a policymaker, he would need to hear a report from city staff as to what Spokane Valley’s options are before making any decision.
Meanwhile, Spokane city officials have indicated that if Spokane Valley does not enter into a regional system, it could face higher charges at the incinerator. Spokane Valley would also have to have its own plan in place by November.
County commissioners were to meet with the leaders of other jurisdictions on Thursday at CenterPlace to discuss the regional solid-waste plan.