Sandpoint City Council – April 20th Part Deux
A review of the Sandpoint City Council Meeting
on Wednesday, April 20, 20116, in 2 parts.
Read part one here.
By Anita Aurit
Jennifer Stapleton, city administrator, presented information on the benefits renewal. There were many numbers tossed out and much information. There is a copy of the PowerPoint on the city website for those who are interested in the details. I present the highlights and the things that caught my attention.
There was as 4% increase in dental and 31.5% increase in medical. The increase was driven by usage, in the month of February the employee usage of medical benefits had increased to 412%. Regents (the provider) extended a discount to the city of 3.5% reducing the increase to, according to my calculations, a 32% increase but Ms. Stapleton said it reduced the increase to 28%. I am assuming that she did not include the 4% Dental plan increase in her figures. In her PowerPoint presentation she noted that there was a 4% increase in Dental Administrative rate but no premium increase. Seems to me if there is a 4% increase, it doesn’t matter what you call it, the city is paying that 4%. The stated goals for the plan revision were as follows: mitigate impact to maximum number of employees, control employee out-of-pocket expenses and maintain a competitive plan for employee retention and recruitment.
Changes in the deductibles were proposed. Formerly individuals had a $750.00 deductible and families had a $1500.00 yearly deductible. The proposed change was for individuals to have a $1250.00 deductible and families to have a $2500.00 deductible. (In 2015 51 out of 88 employees met the deductible)
Out of pocket maximums were at $5750.00, proposed increase is $6500.00. Stapleton noted that proposed deductibles placed Sandpoint 25th in a “peer group” of 34. I would be interested to know who these peer groups are.
Co-pay changes were proposed from the current $0.00 to $30.00 per office visit. The current contribution structure is that employees pay 21.5% of their insurance and the city pays 78.5%. The proposed structure will be that employees pay 0% of their healthcare and the city pays 100%. Dependent healthcare will increase to a 32.8% contribution from the employee and the city pays 67.25%. A notation on the PowerPoint states that 22/34 or 65% of our regional benchmark municipalities pay 100% of employee premiums. Again, I would like to know who these “benchmark municipalities” are.
Again, notations on the documentation states that the premiums of the City of Sandpoint remain amongst the lowest. The proposed plan ranks Sandpoint #3/34 in their “peer group” for employee premium costs and #5/34 for family premium costs. The average employee premium is $547.00. Average family premium is $1442.00. A vision plan was also proposed (requires 35% employee participation) at the cost of $8.20 per month per employee, $16.40 employee and spouse, with incremental increases up to a family rate of $28.05. The new plan goes into effect June 1.
Councilman Snedden asked what the total amount of increase to the city would be and was told “about” $160,000.00. Councilman Snedden mentioned a law about the maximum amount employees can contribute. I did some research under Obamacare insurance mandate and found two interesting notations. Health insurance must be offered to dependents up to the age of 26 but health insurance does not have to be offered to spouses. Also (quoting from the website) “Coverage offered to employees must be considered affordable (can’t cost more than 9.56% of employee household income) and must provide minimum value (must have an average cost sharing of 60%). If coverage isn’t affordable employees can use the Marketplace and the employer can be fined.”
The discussion began with information from an Avista representative who said that Avista would replace three trees or provide $1,000.00 for trees. Then then Jared Yost, the city forester stated that 40 trees were being removed. When asked how many trees $1,000.00 would buy, he said 6. Councilwoman Williamson asked if the Neighborhood Tree program could be used to obtain more trees and was told “there should be some funds available.” The council wondered if a private business (Litehouse) might be willing to provide some of the trees.
The next surprise is when the Avista representative noted that stump removal was not part of the tree removal process and the city would have to pay that cost. Our city forester was surprised by this and, when asked how much this would add to the cost, said $50.00-$70.00 per tree. If they can do the removal with the $50.00 figure, that’s another $2,000.00. Councilwoman Ruehle asked if there was a more cost efficient way to deal with these trees and power lines. (Thank you Councilwoman Ruehle!). The representative from Avista said yes, the trees could be trimmed as usual with no cost to the city. The city forester said, “We could trim as normal and have ugly trees.” Really, you want to spend city monies or go to a private business to get rid of “ugly trees” at great expense?
The motion was tabled until the June meeting to allow staff a chance to talk to Litehouse and get more information. (Note the stumps cannot be pulled out because city code requires they be ground)
The council had requested a plan with more effective use of herbicide and said there are some “lesser protected” areas like the ball field and some more protected areas like lakeside. It was noted that the weed management plan provided guidelines and was only for city right of way property. The mayor said it should be applied to all city property and public managed right of way areas and serve as a “guideline” for private property owners. (Mr. Regulation was at it again) It was noted that organic herbicides may cost more, “but that’s okay.” There was a lengthy back and forth as to who would be the “Weed Czar”, and it was decided it would be the city administrator on the advice of the “weed supervisor”.
Councilwoman Ruehle said this information must be put on the new city website so that people would know “Sandpoint is really trying to make a difference.” The mayor wanted clarity on the section about annual follow up inspection and wanted to know what would be acceptable. He didn’t think annual inspection was enough. The weed manager said that the annual inspection was really more of an annual report of the year’s activity and that weed management is ongoing. Councilwoman Williamson asked who would gather the data and how would it be measured. There was no answer.
Fire Chief Ron Stocking announced that the city of Sandpoint would adopt whatever codes the state of Idaho adopts. Councilman Snedden expressed concern that if the city adopts state code might some city codes be in conflict. The Fire Chief said that city code could be stricter than state code. City attorney Campbell said that the city can make changes to the code as they see fit. A lot of back and forth conversation ensued. Eventually the proposed ordinance was approved for first reading by title only. (I have no idea what that means).
The Schweitzer Cut Off Round About Design Services Agreement was quickly approved.
Schweitzer Cut Off Bridge
Councilman Snedden asked how the city arrived at awarding the contract to J-U-B Engineers. The response from Public Works Director Ryan Luttmann was , “That was before I arrived.” Councilman Snedden asked if any other contractors were involved and did the project go out to bid. Luttman responded by saying, “This was not the type of service that is put out for bid.”
I have two questions:. Lutman is a former employee of J-U-B Engineers so one would think he would have known the history of J-U-B’s involvement. Also, why does this not go out for bid? The professional services agreement was passed unanimously.
Collection Services Contract with Valley Empire Collections was approved unanimously.
(Note, if you owe the city money you might want to pay up before the collection service adds their fee to the amount due)
This is the creation of a separate entity governed by a board to maintain and operate SPOT. Councilman Eddy asked how member cost would be determined. The city administrator said it would be determined by the board that would create the budget and said that “Sandpoint is not responsible for the amount determined by the board.” (So does that mean the board basically has no authority6 and if so, what’s the purpose of creating this board and another layer of bureaucracy?)
The board will be selected by the mayors of each city and some private partners (like Schweitzer) may be interested as well. Currently SPOT is managed by the city of Dover. The city administrator wants to create a “self-sustaining public transportation system.” Translation-more bureaucracy. Councilwoman Ruehle said that Eureka Institute would be building covered bus stops (they’ve applied for grants and the “funding looks good”.) Councilman Snedden recused himself from the vote and when he returned the city attorney thanked him for all the work he did on this.
Reject Bids for Facility Modifications at 804 and 814 Airport Way
Economic Development Director Aaron Qualls requested permission to reject the sole bid received as the project has significantly reduced in Scope. This was approved.
This is the address of Lead Lok, a private company. Why was the city planning to do facility modification on the taxpayer’s dime for this??
Economic Development Director Aaron Qualls spoke about this policy. Said that it is “vital to attract employers to our area. We’ve had a lot of success in diversifying our economy.” He said that innovative companies reach a certain point where there are purchased by another company that has no loyalty to Sandpoint. He said, “We are competing with bigger cities in other areas of the country and in some cases, around the world.” He said the former and current mayor (THE FORMER MAYOR IS NOT ONE OF MY FAVORITE FOLKS, SEE MY COMMEBTS IN THE 2 CENTS SECTION) have drafted a proposal for economic development and they want to make sure it’s applied fairly and consistently.”
1-they want to determine what criteria there would be for fee waivers (with the main criteria that the business create a minimum of 20 jobs at the “average local wage”.)
2-They want performance agreements to be required.
Qualls then asked the council for input. Councilwoman Ruehle asked if there was a requirement for hours worked (so that employees qualified for insurance). Councilman Snedden noted that since the fees were waived in advance how will the city know the business will create 20 jobs? Qualls said the company would have to file quarterly reports with the state but each business will have an agreement drawn up based on their particular circumstances. Councilman Eddy asked if the city could be bound by a past contractual agreement. The mayor noted that in section 3a of the plan, he had concerns about accountability standards and wants to include verbiage that should the business not meet the requirements, the city retains the right to recapture the fees. (Finally, something I agree with from the mayor). His second concern was that there should be some time benchmark noted. Qualls said those things could “certainly be added in but there might be other considerations.”
Councilman asked how this might affect the budget, Qualls responded that basically all administrative and city departments would “take a hit” on staff time bit if 20 or 50 jobs are created it’s worth it. Then he said it would be “difficult to quantify what the long term benefits are.” The city administrator said that Shannon, the treasurer could better speak to budget issues and that they are “looking at various indicators, such as tax base increases. She also noted that the planning department revenues are small compared to expenditures. These costs would have to be offset by other fees. (WHAT FEES? WHO WILL BE CHARGED THESE FEES???)
Councilman Aikens noted that the fees waived are public monies and the mayor interject, “We are not spending public monies.” OH REALLY, WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM???
Councilwoman Ruehle said they shouldn’t “put a number in there for a hard time frame, we don’t need to set the time frame specifically.” OKAY, THEN WHAT DETERMINES THAT THE BUSINESS LIVES UP TO THEIR END OF THE AGREEMENT? The city attorney said, “We need to stay flexible, we need to have a certain amount of flexibility.”
Councilwoman Ruehle asked if there were any legal issues surrounding these agreements but there was no response from the city attorney.
I would love to know what the city’s vision of business is. I know that the former city manager spoke derisively about local small business. He told me once that my business did nothing for the community. I told him he needed to check my business model. My coworking facility brings attracts people to our community who bring salaries with them that are far above the salaries of those employed here (except for government and school admins). They buy homes here, they shop here, send their kids to school here, participate in local non-profits and much more.
When he kicked businesses out of the commercial kitchen he told me they were all “hobby businesses”. One of those “hobby businesses has persevered and grown their business despite the setback of losing the commercial kitchen and having a long commute to create their product.
The city has given free office space to business, competing directly with my business and to top it all off, when I attended a forum where University of Idaho and other entities participated, I was denigrated and dismissed by the former mayor whenever I was asked a question. This was a forum where businesses would have the opportunity to comment. I didn’t realize some comments were not welcome.
When one of the workshop facilitators (in the listening session) asked me what a coworking facility was, the mayor interrupted and said,. “Oh, the city already has something like that.” No, the city doesn’t and instead of asking about a business like ours that is innovative and normally found only in large cities, she took every opportunity to diminish my business and negate everything I said. Also, Ms. Former Mayor, the city should not be engaged in competition with local, private businesses.
Needless to say, these attitudes and actions have made me a bit leery about the city. Add to that the fact that after the meeting, Aaron Qualls turned to Tracy Lutrik, eyed her video equipment and said, “You know we video all the meetings.” Tracy responded yes she knew and she and her husband filmed videos for a number of local meetings like the LPOSD board meetings.
Qualls then turned to me and said, “Why do you come to the meetings?. You know you can watch them online.” My response. “Ever since the mayor’s inflammatory resolution and his categorization of those who disagreed with him as intolerant, KKK, Nazis, etc. I decided I needed to be more involved and I find it helpful to sit in the front row to capture all the little nuances that the city video misses. And besides, it’s my money you’re working with and I like to be here when you make decisions.” He turned away from me and scurried to a friendlier corner of the room with his cronies.
Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.