by Anita Aurit
Sandpoint City Council Meeting August 3rd
Should Your Rights Interfere With My Rights to Do Business?
Normally the public forum is held at the beginning of the meeting. The council made an exception to the usual format. The testimony was compelling. Several mothers who are vendors at the Farmer’s Market as well as other market business people gave testimony regarding the anti-abortion protesters in the park. Those who brought their concerns to the council were impressive in their professionalism. They stayed on subject, they made no social agenda comments and each stated firmly that they understood first amendment rights.
The statements that chilled me, and that I heard from several people were those that stated the protestors were accosting children, telling these children they “had blood on their hands”. One vendor spoke about how her child was followed into the bathroom and verbally accosted. They commented about the protestors insinuating themselves into vendor’s booths to hand out literature and following customers around the park. They testified that one protestor was using a microphone and amp which made it difficult to converse with clients or other vendors.
As a small business owner, I would be extremely upset if my business was disrupted in this way and if my clients were verbally accosted, not to mention the children of my clients.. I found it interesting that the ACLU website (an organization that is normally on the opposite side of the issues I support) states this regarding protests: “It’s not what you say—it’s the way that you say it. Your right to express your opinion is protected no matter what beliefs you hold. What matters is how you use that right. If you organize a protest that causes serious disruption, the government may be able to intervene. But with a few notable exceptions, nobody can restrict your rights simply because they don’t like what you say.”
What these people described was a serious disruption of the business of the Farmer’s Market, not to mention the emotional damage caused to children who had no idea why these people were saying these things to them.
Neither my comments here, nor the comments of those who gave testimony at the council meeting were about anything other than the disruption of business.
Kudos to Chief Coon
The city police chief reported that four vehicles had been purchased for the vehicle take-home program and, (insert drum roll here), the total cost was actually under his original budget estimate. Add to this that his alternative to the building of a police vehicle garage came in at about $118,000.00 from a budget of $450,000.00 and yhou have a shining example of good stewardship. Chief Coons saved the taxpayers a lot of money! Now the question is, where will the rest of these funds be applied? The city is already over budget and although the leftover amount won’t make much of a dent in the $39 million city budget, every little bit helps.
Spend, Spend, Spend
Budget meetings have been taking place weekly. The City Administrator, Jennifer Stapleton spoke to several areas of the budget:
- Department wages, 1% increase (was not more because the cost of health care increased so much).
- She suggested a new position of Grant Project Manager and “…now with the economy turning around” it would allow the city to have someone on staff who is well versed in Federal Regulations. She went on to describe how this job would allow the city to partner with non-profits for grants and stated that “Grants have to be incorporated into the city’s strategic plan. She stated that the waste water treatment “will rely heavily on grants”.This is a bit confusing. In a Dec. 17, 2015 article in the Reader, the following was stated:
“Since Stapleton’s selection by the Logan’s mayoral hiring committee, she’s spoken with the city’s department heads to discuss which of their responsibilities she could take off their plates. The idea is to improve efficiency and give department heads time to focus on more immediate concerns. “For example, is the chief of police writing grants really the most effective use of his time?” she said. She also brings with her years of grant writing experience, and that’s another area she thinks will be improved by a centralized administrative approach. For example, the regulations governing federal and state grants change frequently, and it’s easy to fall out of good standing without proper administration. That can affect the availability of future funding. “ Stapleton’s position was touted as being the position that would bring in and manage grants. Now we need to pay another person to do that? And how much will that salary be?
- She said that the position of Assistant Financial Director should be created to help during the time that the current Financial Director prepares for retirement. When asked by council members if that position would “go away” after the current Financial Director retires she stated unequivocally, “Yes”. Hmm, let’s see.
- Stapleton also noted she wanted to see a new position for Superintendent of Water and Sewer.
We’re Going to Need a Lot of Capital for the City’s Capital Projects
Stapleton stated that there was over $18 million for capital projects in the new budget. She again commented about the economy “turning around”. In reporting on the council and mayoral salaries she said that the council is at 56% of the region and the mayor is at 60%. She looked at comparable cities to make her recommendations but my question is, did she look at comparable cities that employed a city administrator whose salary is over $100,000.00 (more than twice the average Bonner County household income)?
Stapleton stated that there is a 56% increase in capital projects with some monies coming from grants. The council had numerous questions on items in the capital projects section of the budget. Often the answer was that the items were “placeholders” for grants.
I was interested in the comment that there are excess funds in the special option tax, is that money being used to defray some of the costs of the $39 million budget?
My Two Cents
The amount of money this city spends is unbelievable. And as for grants, there are always strings attached and often they require that the city make a cash investment as well. I question whether this love of grant money has made the city less conscientious about the stewardship of our tax monies and more willing to jump for any grant that is dangled in front of them. The thinking is a bit like the shopper who defends a $1000.00 purchase of something that is not necessary because it was originally a $3,000.00 item so it was a “great deal”.
I am concerned about this new positon of grant administrator. Every newspaper article I read and all the information I received prior to and after the creation of the city administrator’s job was that the position would be focused on grants and take the load off department heads.
And as for these grants, only a very few businesses benefit from these monies, businesses that the city deems “worthy”. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the city held a small business summit, describing grants available and assisting small businesses in obtaining these grants ensuring the grant monies were benefiting the maximum number of businesses in our community?
Our city needs to understand that it’s not just the 100+ employers. As of the 2010 Census, there were 27.9 million small businesses registered in the United States, compared to just 18,500 companies of 500 employees or more. Included in that total figure are sole proprietorships (73.2 percent), corporations (19.5 percent), and franchises (2 percent). 52 percent of small businesses are home-based. 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms are small businesses.
Finally, just saying that the economy is turning around does not make it so. The July 2016 small business report for Idaho from the National Federation of Independent Business states ““Small business optimism was pretty much unchanged during the month of July and small businesses continue to be in maintenance mode,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Uncertainty is high, expectations for better business conditions are low, and future business investments look weak. Our data indicates that there is little hope for a surge in the small business sector anytime soon.”
And, with a $55 million dollar levy hanging over our heads, the economy is not going to turn around any time soon.