Money, Money, Money
Sandpoint City Council July 20, 2016
by Anita Aurit
Sandpoint’s $3 Million Football/Festival Field
The contract was awarded and the city will be on the hook for the cost of any snow removal the contractor requests. Evidently the cost of redoing the field has risen to over $3 million. (With a $55 million LPOSD levy looming on the horizon and the benefit the Festival receives, I do not understand why this cost is $3 million.) You can click here for the detailed contract. http://www.cityofsandpoint.com/Home/ShowDocument?id=3722
Solar Panels for the Park
The city obtained a GEM grant from the state in the amount of $47,000.00 and an additional $10,000.00 from SURA to install 30 solar panels in a demo at the downtown park. Solar Roadways will supply the panels and the labor to install these 30 demo panels which raises a big question. Let’s look at the math here. Jennifer Stapleton said that $60,000.00 covers the cost of the panels, so that means there is another $3,000.00 needed to cover the costs. Where is that coming from? And, if 30 panels are $60,000.00 installed that makes the per panel cost $2,000.00. Yowza, who’s going to be able to afford that? I don’t see this as such a bargain but you wouldn’t think that if you heard the city waxing eloquent over how this will be a tourist attraction and a boon to our community. And in my humble opinion the cluster of 56 LED lights included in the 30 panels can’t possibly enough to make this a tourist draw.
We were also informed that there will be five micro inverters that will be used to feed back energy to the grid. That all sounds wonderful but how much energy will be generated and what will that look like in cash savings to the city for energy? I think that there has been much talk about the “pretty shiny” new product and very little talk about the practicality, affordability and productivity of this product.
Jennifer Stapleton, city administrator, said that ,”The city will look to see what could be powered by the energy” (that the 30 solar panels produce) and she noted that this would all have to be approved by Avista. Stapleton also said she wanted to explore the possibility of building and information kiosk in partnership with Avista at the install site. How much more will that cost the taxpayers?
In reference to the demo install, Stapleton said that, “We have national media contacting us regularly.” She did not say what exactly the media contacted them about nor did she say why this would be a boon to the city.
She did note that the company was doing other national installs (did not say how those were being financed). She said that the company has made it clear that this is their home project and any upgrades, new developments, etc. would be upgraded at the Sandpoint demo location, at the company’s expense.
Speaking of expense, the city will be financially responsible for “preparing the site”. Councilman Aiken noted that the would like to see something in writing that lays out the company’s obligation to do maintenance, tech upgrades, etc.. Councilman Eddy agreed and also requested a written agreement from the company.
I have no personal beef with Solar Roadways and if you can get $57,000.00 of tax payer money to market your product, more power to you, still, it would be nice to see tax funds be spread out among more local businesses. Where is the information for GEM grants and city monies available so that more of us could apply?
Moratorium on Cellular Towers
The city attorney, Scot Campbell began his presentation by stating that the public hearing for this moratorium had not been published in the paper, as legally required and, that this moratorium is based on the fact that the towers create an “imminent danger to citizens”. He also informed the council that the moratorium could be challenged because of the lack of publication and the reasons for the verbiage “imminent danger”.
Just as I was trying to wrap my head around a new cell tower being an “imminent danger” Councilman Snedden asked for clarification on the “imminent danger” status.
There ensued a lot of hemming and hawing with Councilman Snedden pushing Campbell for more answers and clarity. (If you want the details, I encourage you to watch the video) http://video.sandpointidaho.gov/videos/
Aaron Qualls quoted the telecommunications act but there was nothing specifically noted that addressed the assertion of “imminent danger”.
As I struggled to understand the back and forth and the “imminent danger” assertion, I began to wonder about a few things. It was finally revealed that someone had the intention of putting in a new tower for 5G service. I remembered Stapleton’s comments at a previous meeting regarding the city’s push for broadband and the fact that Ting was ready to come in “if some conditions were met”. Hmmm, Ting pushes its cell product heavily. Is the city attempting to provide an unfair advantage to Ting (a Canadian company) by restricting local companies from upgrading their service? I don’t know this as fact but something seems fishy, particularly after hearing the strange definitions of “imminent danger”, things like, if a company builds a tower and it falls into disrepair that would be a danger”. Okay, but I don’t see how this creates a danger that is imminent.
Aaron Qualls instructed the council that they should not discuss restrictions on radio frequency. Again I am in the weeds here, don’t know all the legal details but I do question this emergency moratorium that would last 180 days. There was more back and forth with the most ridiculous comparison by the city attorney who likened this moratorium with the safety and welfare of citizens like water issues where the water wasn’t safe to drink. He then cited some examples of imminent threats in other communities like Haley with an issue of library construction and Boise concerning small houses.
Public testimony came from one individual who presented documentation she’d downloaded from the Internet regarding cellphone radiology affects. I am not disputing her but I am still skeptical that this is a reason for an emergency moratorium and don’t believe it’s the city’s plan to eliminate cell phone towers entirely.
Councilman Snedden asked if there were city codes regarding height restrictions. The answer was that the code states these structures are exempt from height limits.
Councilman Camp asked Qualls, “What is your goal on limiting these towers?” Qualls said it was to hire experts, make sure they fit into the city’s comprehensive plans and at that point the city attorney interrupted, correcting Qualls verbiage and Qualls backtracked, saying his goal was “not to stop towers but to steward the process.” The whole “emergency” issue makes this thing sound sketchy to me. The motion to adapt the moratorium did not receive a second and the motion died.
Proposed City Budget
The proposed budget has increased 24% and is over $39 million. Some of the reasons stated for the budget increase was the fiber optic install, Memorial Field and the Baldy pedestrian project. Also, the Schweitzer Bridge was an unexpected expenditure and the city is looking for federal funding. There will be a public hearing about the budget on August 17th at a regular city council meeting and there are numerous budget meetings taking place each Wednesday (all open to the public). It was my understanding that the Memorial Field project was funded and why is the city going over budget with a fiber project? I thought cities were not allowed to be in the utilities business.
Also concerning was the resolution for the city to use their foregone levying authority. There will be a public hearing for this in August, not sure of the date yet. The monies to be levied will be to fund the volunteer fire department. I would like to know where the monies not used due to the city police vehicle take home program went. If memory serves there was about $20,000.00 that was not used from the designated funds.
My Two Cents
My head is reeling from all the tax monies being spent. The city budget is raised by 24%, there’s talk of a city levy and we’re staring down the barrel of a $55 million LPOSD levy. I have no say in the BID tax monies I’m forced to pay and I see the city using tax funds for businesses they deem worthy while the rest of us try to make our monthly bills, defer vacations and hiring because we can’t afford it. It would be refreshing and unusual to see the city distribute these monies to benefit more businesses in town.
And here’s an interesting little tidbit I found in the SURA minutes from June. After taking the commercial kitchen out of the incubator, it appears that the county is going to purchase the equipment to build a commercial kitchen at the fairgrounds. I’ve included the portion of the minutes that refer to this for your information. Interesting to see the players involved in this iteration of the commercial kitchen and how the taxpayers are once again paying for something (in my opinion) that should have never been dismantled in the first place. Don’t be fooled by the phrase “SURA money”. Just remember where that “SURA money” comes from-the tax payers! Jeremy Grimm seems to be enthusiastic for the county to take this on. When I spoke with him during his tenure as a city employee regarding his closure of the commercial kitchen, he stated to me that the businesses using the commercial kitchen were “hobby businesses” and that they did not maintain the kitchen and that it was not cost efficient to run it. I have heard another view from the businesses who were displaced.
* Noted below is the excerpt regarding this issue from the SURA minutes of June 7th, 2016. You can click here for a link to the minutes in their entirety. http://www.cityofsandpoint.com/Home/ShowDocument?id=3666
Bonner County: Steve Klatt; Commercial Kitchen
Klatt stated he is just speaking as informational in preparation for a July funding request. Klatt advised he obtained the original plans for the BBC kitchen layout to see if it can duplicated at the fairgrounds. Klatt stated the cost came in at 250,000 for just a simple building. Klatt stated he will seek a commitment of $50,000 from the County for the project and ask SURA for a minimum of $200,000 in additional funding. Grimm stated he is intimate with the history of this project and was one of the decision makers to close down the incubator.
He stated one of the issues was the cost of running the facility. Grimm stated SURA is a great match and the combination of utilizing the fairgrounds would probably offset the cost of running the kitchen. Qualls stated this would be the only commercial kitchen in the region and with the food culture in Sandpoint this would be a benefit to the Community. Paull clarified the new kitchen facility would be a new standalone structure. Klatt stated is going to ask the City for relief of hookup fees for water and sewer.
McAlister inquired if the building will be an event center, or just the incubator kitchen. Klatt stated it would be just the single purpose building. Hagan stated previous events have had problems with catering and having the commercial kitchen would improve catered events. Paull inquired if paving is included in the new design. Klatt stated paving code drive the cost of the project too high. Paull inquired if paving would help attract more users for health and cleanliness. Rhonda Livingstone stated the original proposal had some paving included.
Qualls inquired what the Board needs from the Commissioners. Paull advised a commitment letter is required. Klatt stated if the Commissioners do not commit, SURA would not be obligated to fund the project.