Clash of the Titans – Sandpoint City Council
by Anita Aurit
Announcements & The BID Survey This Business Owner Has Yet To See
SURA, the City Administrator noted that fiber is “in the ground” and will be fully operational by the weekend. They are working with FatBeam and are looking to add public Wi-Fi at Jeff Jones Park and eventually the Farmer’s Market.
Stapleton also announced , regarding the BID business survey that the chamber had input and the survey will be out in two weeks. There will a drop box at the Daily Bee and businesses can also complete the surveys online or send responses in via regular mail. The mayor and city admin stated several times that only one response would be accepted and made a veiled warning regarding “cheating”. (Note I am writing this update on November 14th, almost two weeks after the meeting and this business owner has heard nothing about the survey)
The Real Drama
During the public comment section, the attorney for Kochava chided the city council stating that emails had been discovered that indicated the council had discussed the parking issue regarding Kaniksu Health but the public had not been made aware of the agreement until the October 19th city council meeting. He stated that Kochava currently employed 80 people and had plans to employ 140. The only conclusion I could reach regarding his comments was that Kochava felt they would be receiving city parking space for their new location.
When you review what Kochava has received from the city so far (for instance, read the 11/18 minutes where Kochava requested and was granted waivers for their building permit fee (approximately $7,000.00 and the plan check fee which is 50% of the building permit fee or, approximately $3500.00) and the BID tax monies received by Kochava we see that Kochava has received favorable financial decisions from the city in the past and that it appears they expect the same in the future.
Invite you to peruse the BID budgets for 2014, 2015 and 2016
The next speaker for the public comment portion was Jeremy Grimm who made it clear he was speaking for himself and not for his company (Kochava). He asked the council to reconsider locking the parking agreement in for fifteen years and commented that there were “a lot of hazy facts and details” regarding the agreement to lease sixty parking spots from the city lot to Kaniksu Health. Grimm noted that it “wasn’t clear what percentage Mr. Villelli had in the project” and he also cited codes that the parking agreement would be in conflict with. He asked the council to “rethink this and slow this down.”
….Then things got interesting…..
The mayor stated that this parking agreement had been discussed earlier, when Grimm was the city administrator and that Grimm had introduced the city to Mr. Villelli, the builder. He then asked Mr. Grimm if he had changed his mind because of his position at Kochava.
Mr. Villelli stated that he met with Jeremy Grimm when Grimm worked for the city and Grim had “urged” him to make this deal for parking. Mr. Villelli added that he had approached Mr. Grimm over two years ago when Grimm was working for the city and that the conversation with Grimm regarding parking had continued when Grimm left the city and took a position with Kochava.
The COO of Kaniksu, Kevin Knepper spoke, stating “we could just come in at seven o’clock and take the space without an agreement” but that they wanted to work out an agreement and he remarked that it was “interesting” that Kochava was contesting the parking agreement with the city. He asked, “who do you want downtown?” His comments shed some light on what had been going on behind the scenes, the city council may not have known what was in the works but the former city manager and the current city administrator and mayor have been fully aware for quite some time. What looked like a rush job at the November 2nd meeting, was in fact, a long existing plan.
The mayor and city administrator then launched into their regular “we’ve reached out to the downtown community and we’ve spoken with the chamber” speech, stating that the feedback was overwhelming positive. I decided to do some “reaching out” myself and found it interesting that the businesses I spoke with who rely heavily on the downtown parking were never contacted by the mayor or the city administrator. In addition, I will remind the city that there are many businesses who are no longer chamber members so the chamber DOES NOT speaks for all downtown businesses.
The tension was tangible and was described most accurately by someone at the meeting who whispered, “Hmm, clash of the Titans.” This is why regular attendance at city, county, school board, etc. meetings is important. We need the full, big picture.
The city voted to put off the parking vote until the November 15th meeting.
This issue was not technically a matter of interest to businesses but it so clearly illustrates the hubris I often see from city government.
A gentleman who lives on Schweitzer cut off road, and who was forced to move his mailbox numerous times due to the city construction, had applied for a reduction on his water bill due to late notification of a leak at his home. He did not receive the notice because of the moving mailbox and the fact that there was a period of time where the mail person told him she could not deliver to his house because of the construction going on in front of his residence. When notice was finally received, he fixed the leak immediately. The point was that due to city construction and the interruption of his mail delivery, he was being charged more than necessary. There was much discussion as to when meters are read and, for the most part, the council’s attitude was, those are the rules, deal with them. The comment “we’re not responsible for the post office” was beyond the pale.
Councilman Camp asked the question, isn’t it the council’s job to look at extenuating circumstances that don’t fall clearly into the rules? Councilwoman Williamson stated that she understood that “we’re not responsible for the post office” but “we’re doing a significant amount of construction” and that this man was being impacted by it. The vote to deny a reduction in the fees failed. Thank you Councilman Camp and Councilwoman Williamson for being the voices of reason.
The battle of the parking spaces will wage on at the next meeting and I will be very interested in seeing the results, particularly since the businesses I spoke with (and who will be impacted by a loss of parking) were never contacted by the mayor, city administrator or anyone else from the city.
The city needs to realize once and for all that speaking to the head of the BID has nothing to do with contacting the taxed BID businesses. I have never had a visit from my BID “representative” nor have I had any communication from her. I have never been asked my opinion regarding anything that would affect my business. I did not receive benefit from my years as a chamber member so I did not renew my membership as is the case with many local businesses, so if the city relies solely on the chamber to speak for all businesses the city is making a great error.
The picking of winners and losers by the city and its extensions (BID, SURA, etc.) has gone on far too long. May I remind you that in November of last year, when the city “gifted” Kochava with fee reductions of approximately $10,000.00 plus, they also denied a sewer bill reduction from the Food Bank. This was $600.00, shortly before Thanksgiving and, as noted by the Food Bank director, those monies would pay for $2400.00 meals. Fortunately the word went out and local businesses and private citizens brought donations to cover the bill.
It is becoming more clear to me with every city council meeting I attend that the city (at least where the mayor and city administrator are concerned) there is no real interest in the opinions of local businesses. Oh, and by the way, it will be two weeks tomorrow that the promise of a business survey was made. I have seen nothing as of this writing.
Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.