Continued efforts at cost-cutting, the consolidation of regional services and more than a few references to a television show that’s been off the air for nearly 18 years were all touched upon during last Friday’s “State of the County” address.
Al French, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, delivered the half-hour progress report at Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center during a breakfast meeting of Greater Spokane Inc.
With over 200 in attendance, French – who is serving his first term as a county commissioner representing District 3 and who has previously served two terms on the Spokane City Council – kept the mood light and emphasized the positive. He said Spokane County is in better financial condition than similarly sized governments across the county.
“We ended 2010 in pretty good shape,” French said, adding that the 2.75-percent rate on the bonds to build the new wastewater treatment plant at Trent and Freya in Spokane will save taxpayers over $20 million in interest on the $167 million plant. “We’re in good financial condition.”
In a reference to the TV show “Cheers” and its bloated character Norm Peterson, French emphasized that the county must strive to maintain a “new norm,” which will emphasize a leaner, less-wasteful way of doing business.
“We can’t afford to do it the way we used to do it,” he said, and then pointed to a series of charts that showed revenues would continue to fall in coming years while expenditures would rise. “Welcome to our reality.”
One way of maximizing efficiency, French said, was to look to other local municipal governments and see where services are being duplicated. To that end, French unveiled the “Lucky 13,” a list of potential candidates for the consolidation of services. These included the areas of parks and recreation, animal control, Graphic Information System (GIS), fire protection, library services, building permits, code enforcement, dispatch, law enforcement, purchasing, snow removal, road maintenance and garbage disposal services.
“We need to start thinking bigger and start thinking regionally,” he said.
With a projection that Spokane County’s population could grow by approximately 95,000 over the next decade, French said everyone in the community needs to be prepared – even if that means the elimination of impact fees to encourage new housing opportunities.
“(The board) is advocating for controlling housing costs for our residents,” he said. “We will not be considering any traffic impact fees or other costs that will negatively impact business or the housing industry until we reach full recovery and employment is back to acceptable levels.”
French also had nothing but good things to say about his colleagues, Mark Richard and Todd Mielke, and complimented voters for electing “three good-looking Republican men.”
He added that he has disagreed with Richard and Mielke exactly twice since joining them in January.
“I’ve forgiven them for being wrong,” French said.