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State auditor cites Snoqualmie for fire engine purchase

SNOQUALMIE - The results of the 2003 state audit of the city of Snoqualmie yielded two violations that recently surfaced in the state's accountability report.

According to the report, Snoqualmie did not comply with competitive bid requirements when purchasing the $354,536 fire engine it ordered in 2003. When the city purchased the fire engine, it piggybacked on a vehicle design contract with Clackamas County in Oregon. By "piggybacking" Snoqualmie was able to share costs with Clackamas instead of putting its own contract out to bid.

The violation was discovered in 2003 by an auditor conducting a random search. Each year state auditors select random files to check for compliance instead of looking through all the books.

"It was a pretty basic mistake," said Bob Larson, city administrator. "Obviously we're not going to do that again. The only way to piggyback on existing contracts is to do so within the county or state governmental unit. We did not have an agreement with that particular city to do this."

The incident is said to have occurred under a past city administrator who wasn't familiar with the nuances of the state competitive bid requirements.

Fire Chief Bob Rowe said that in 2003, the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) allowed Snoqualmie to piggyback on Clackamas County's bid, though the city didn't realize the Clackamas contract was produced in 1998, which is considered far too dated in Washington State.

"The RCW did allow us to piggyback on any contract in the nation. According to the auditor it can only be two years old, which we had no clue about, so they came in and found that," Rowe said.

Rowe said he is working on getting the documentation from Clackamas that shows they extended the 1998 bid, which allows them to continue to buy apparatus off the same bid - something Oregon law allows but Washington law may not.

Matt Larson, City Council member and chair of the finance and administration committee, said the issue was with the procedure of the purchase, not fiscal mismanagement.

"It's not like fire trucks are just sitting on shelves. They're custom built to serve different needs," Matt Larson said. "Sometimes abiding by the law costs more than the common sense route."

Apparently, the truck designed for Clackamas County was almost identical to what Snoqualmie needed, so city officials decided to piggyback on the Clackamas County design, thus sharing design costs rather than paying for someone to draw up a new design.

Matt Larson said the city was under time constraints while facing problems with existing fire engines, which contributed to the quick purchase of the truck.

"In this case we were making a wise fiscal decision, but it stepped on the toes of other interested parties. It excluded other companies because it made the design scope so narrow," Matt Larson said.

Since this incident occurred, the city has acquired a staff city attorney who will be able to spend more time on all city contracts, and a city administrator who is better acquainted with the competitive bid policies.

The other finding of the state audit was incomplete paperwork for a federal grant the city received for a signal arm off River Street at the railroad crossing.

Bob Larson said the incident was simply a matter of not having a thorough understanding of paperwork requirements for the grant. The paperwork has since been completed.

The city is audited by the state every year. During the last 10 years, Washington has only issued one finding for Snoqualmie prior to these two. The 2002 audit found a problem with compensation to the mayor, which has since been resolved.

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