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Audit, Art and the BID – Sandpoint City Council

Once government has a revenue source, they are very reluctant to lose it. Case in point, the 1% sales tax to fund Memorial Field.

Audit, Art and the BID - Sandpoint City Council
Lake Pend Oreille (photo: realestateinsandpoint.com)

Audit, Art and the BID
Sandpoint City Council Meeting – April 19, 2017

by Anita Aurit

Mayor Declares April as Fair Housing Month
They mayor read a proclamation put forward by himself, the city, Human Rights Task Force, et all declaring April as “Fair Housing Month”. Interesting, that the declaration was not published prior to or after the meeting. I have not heard of any housing discrimination in the area (at least enough for a declaration). What I am aware of is that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and this is an issue that I have heard about and that we deal with in this county and city.

Chris Shipley. CPA, Magnuson, McHugh and Company- City Audit
This gentleman was engaging however his speech and constant kudos to the city staff, how great Sandpoint is, blah, blah, blah made me feel as though he was selling something rather than reporting on his firm’s audit of the city. No specific information was provided that the public could understand about the audit but he did mention how he appreciated that the city has chosen his firm to do the city audits for a number of years. There was an auditing document online, which I downloaded for later reading, and which you can access here.

Panhandle Special Needs Sewer Charge Reduction Help Request
The PSN organization received an unusually high sewer bill due to issues from a neighboring building that resulted in an $1800.00 sewer bill. The city approved the forgiveness of the overage which I felt was appropriate but it did make me wonder why they had refused to assist the Food Bank with a sewer bill issue a year ago Thanksgiving. The amount was over $600.00. It made me wonder what the difference was with these issues.

Arts commission – Silver Box Project
The Arts Commission presented their plan for the Silver Box Project. The funds for the project ($20,000.00 will come from a grant from SURA). The Arts Council receives a grant (federal tax monies) of $60,000.00 from the SURA budget per year (2 ½ %). I won’t go into detail about the project but I did find it interesting that the commission stated that “local artists may be given preference”. The idea is that the public will vote on the art installations and the winner will be awarded $5,000.00.

I am confused as to why this project would not be about and for local artists rather than soliciting artwork from outside the area. Seeking outside artists was made clear when the Arts Council presented their proposal to use CAFÉ (a software subscription for about $525.00 annually) for calls for entries. It was stated that previously advertised calls for art submissions were done via the paper and word of mouth. From what I could gather from the presentation and by the words “broader audience” for submissions it sounds like they will be focusing on soliciting entries from outside the community. Again, the wording on the presentation slide was “local artists may be given preference”.

Seems we should be working harder to support the artists in our community, especially when the winning art installations (voted on by the community) are awarded $5,000.00. I am hoping that an emphasis will be placed on the many local artists in our community.

High Five Children’s Health Collaborative
This grant from Blue Cross of Idaho was awarded to three cities in Idaho, Sandpoint being one of the recipients. The High Five website states:

The Community Transformation Grant is intended to engage communities across Idaho to organize collaboration among multiple sectors – education, healthcare, non-profits, government, business and philanthropy – to focus on the reduction and/or prevention of childhood obesity. Community partnerships will engage and mobilize the community to create healthier environments for youth. Specifically, partnerships will focus on: Cross-sector collaboration to design strategies that focus on the reduction and/or prevention of childhood obesity, improvement of healthy eating, physical activity, and the built environment for youth. support of a data-driven strategy development process.

Finding ways to sustain the work of the community transformation grant after the three-year period.

Funds may be used for a range of activities to create strategies to increase physical activity and access to healthy, affordable foods for youth. The exact use of the funds will be determined after a process of community brainstorming, buy-in and planning. Each grant recipient will be awarded up to $250,000, depending on the projects selected during action plan development.”

When asked about specifics, Aaron Qualls responded that “various people” will administer the program and monies. When Councilwoman Ruehle asked if there were any specific ideas Qualls responded, “It will be a community driven and data driven structure, there is still no specific information.”

Dark Fiber Agreements, Little Sand Creek Bridge contract
These items were not discussed but voted on, all passed.

bidBID (Business Improvement District)
Jennifer Stapleton reported on her proposal for the interim management of the BID (the Chamber does not want to continue administering the BID monies and after all the controversy surrounding the financials, I am not surprised.). Stapleton recommended that until a final decision was reached regarding the BID, 100 flower baskets should be hung and maintained (they had already been ordered last fall). She also recommended that the same caretaker be employed to care for the baskets. She noted that last year the baskets had been hung through a volunteer effort by city employees and this would be the plan for this year as well. She is currently working with the chamber for the transfer of account balances and payables due. The BID tax monies are being held in a designated account until final decisions are made. She felt that by the end of July, the city should be ready to take over the administration of the BID.

She recommended bringing a neutral outside facilitator to run meetings for public. The city would then gather and synthesize the information from the upcoming public meetings with BID stakeholders. A plan will then be devised based on that information which may include changing BID boundaries and other ideas. She added, “and always on the table is that it doesn’t go forward”.

She noted that she’d spoken with Roger Woodworth from Mindset Matters who is a strong candidate because of his skills. He would put a team together looking at best practices for BIDS. She noted that she had also spoken to two individuals who were founders of the BID in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane and felt their input would be helpful.

She anticipates 5 workshops/public meetings. Councilman Snedden asked if she would be using RFP process. She noted that time is short and then mentioned Patrick Jones with whom both Coeur d’Alene and Spokane have worked. She noted that Patrick Jones would not bring a vested interest one way or the other. At this point I was not clear if both Patrick Jones and Roger Woodworth would be hired.

Shannon Williamson (photo: cityofsandpoint.com)

The cost for these public forums and the facilitator(s) would be $10,000.00-$15,000.00. There is currently a balance in the BID account of $45,000.00. She noted that survey respondents had overwhelmingly stated that the BID’s advertising efforts were ineffectual and since there are no BID administrative costs, she felt this expense would be useful.

Stapleton noted concern about staffing if the city took over the BID. The anticipated completion date for the forums and information gathering and decision making is slated for July 20, 2017.

Councilwoman Williamson remarked that this was an ambitious schedule to figure out dates for workshops and publicizing them. Stapleton reiterated that the purpose of these meetings was to assess the entire structure of services of this BID. She said, “This model works successfully in many areas of the country, why doesn’t it work here? “

When public comment was allowed I expressed my concern that the individuals conducting the workshops would be working toward creating an outcome that the city had already decided. Stapleton clarified for me that the facilitators would not be promoting the BID in any way and her explanation made sense and allayed my fears. Councilman Snedden took exception to my statement that the responses from the BU study were skewed. I told him that I stood by this comment as questionnaires had been sent to business owners (those who pay the BID and interact with the BID) and also sent to property owners who, if they are not the operators of the business on their property, have no experience with the BID.

He then explained how he is reluctant to make any changes on something that “the businesses” had started. His tone and demeanor were not the most polite and this is not the first time he has spoken to me as though I was a recalcitrant and naïve school girl. I find his hostility toward me interesting, especially since my past dealings with him have always been pleasant. I supported him when he ran for city council, put his sign in my yard and have referred clients to him in the past.

There were other comments from Steve Holt, “I commend the work that has been done to figure it out, a lot of good energy was put into this and agree with “Steve” that it’s an ambitious timeline.”

Tracy Lutrick spoke advising the council that her family had moved their business out of Sandpoint as they found the city not friendly to small business.

Sandpoint City CouncilMy Two Cents:
I am weary of personalities and emotions at these meetings. It amazes me how people act and react. I do not expect anyone on the council to be my best friend but I do expect to be treated with courtesy. Whatever bone Councilman Snedden has to pick with me should not show itself in his official capacity nor should the city attorney respond angrily toward citizens.

The word “service” in public service is lost on some of the city employees and officials. One of the hardest workers I encounter at city council meetings is the City Administrator, Jennifer Stapleton. She is smart, gracious and always willing to connect and explain something to citizens when they have concerns. She took the time to listen to me when I explained my previous experience with city forums and how the result often had no resemblance to the opinions that had been expressed; it was simply another way to further an agenda the city had. She has also gone to many businesses and listened to their experiences with the BID and understands the issues that go beyond flower baskets and winter carnival. I appreciate her attitude and work ethic, especially when you consider she is not an elected official. I also appreciate the courtesy with which I am treated by Councilmen Eddy and Camp and Councilwoman Williamson and the mayor as well.

This does not mean I am a fan of the BID, my feelings remain the same but if there are retail businesses and restaurants in the actual downtown area of Sandpoint who want the BID to continue, more power to them. I just want to be left out of it and I do not want to have a tax forced on me that provides me with no benefit whatsoever. I don’t go to the city and ask for money, nor am I one of the “chosen few” that the city likes to support with grants, construction fee relief and the like and it makes me very happy to be left alone.

Finally, as regards the BID, if one more city councilperson or city employee explains to me that the BID was started by the businesses, insinuating that I was somehow involved in this decision, my head will explode. I have a cop[y of the initiating petition originally filed and the signatures in support of it. All of them are retail downtown businesses, none of them represent me. Nor have I seen the BID monies I’ve been taxed used in all the manners prescribed in the alignment with the six “proposed use of the assessments ”:

A-acquisition, construction, maintenance and operation of parking facilities for the benefit of the district

B-physical improvement and decoration of any public space in the district

C-promotion of public events which are to take place on or in public places in the district

d-The acquisition and operation of transportation services to promote retail trade activities in the district.

e-The general promotion of retail trade activities in the district and

f-Any and all other purposes for which such a District may be formed under Idaho Code Section 50-2601

It has been my experience however, that once government has a revenue source, they are very reluctant to lose it. Case in point, the 1% sales tax to fund Memorial Field.

 

Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.

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