Mayor Rognstad Proclaims “Revive Civility Month”
Sandpoint City Council, May 17, 2017
by Anita Aurit
Spending most of the month of May out of town will not deter me in my quest to bring you my opinion piece on the city council meetings.
Can’t We All Get Along? The Mayor Speaks
I found it interesting that our mayor proclaimed May 2017 as “revive civility month” in Sandpoint and followed this by “congratulating those who prevailed” in the school board election. I watched all the local forums prior to the election as well as print, radio, etc. and found very little civility coming from those who launched attacks at Anita Perry, Richard Miller and Victoria Zeischegg.
I have many screen captures of people screaming profanities, name calling, smearing and defaming these folks as well as their supporters which leaves me wondering what civility the mayor is referring to. I especially like his comment about fostering respect among opposing views. I wonder if he would be interested in any of the screen captures I have of the less than civil folks.
The Battle of the BID
The mayor announced the BID workshops. Although I was gone for most of the month, I was pleased to have the opportunity for a one on one with Roger Woodworth regarding the BID. I will be interested to see what the city reports at the June 7th meeting.
Announcements and Miscellaneous
The construction contract for the Schweitzer Bridge and road project has been awarded. The bridge will be closed from about 3-4 weeks beginning after Memorial Day weekend. The bridge will remain closed until approximately October.
Jennifer Stapleton reported on BID workshop participation, to date only about 20 people participated in workshops and about half that for one on one interviews. Councilwoman Williamson asked what time slot was most well attended, Stapleton noted that the best turnout was the 11:00am session of the previous day. The mayor noted he had personally visited about 70 downtown businesses. He said he talked to the “usual suspects” and feedback was about the same. He also noted that there were more new business owners at the previous day’s workshop.
A request for approval of a license from City Rides (connections between Spokane airport and the city to and from Sandpoint) was made. Chief Coon recommended that application be approved, background check was completed. Rides can be booked online in advance. Council approved the license. Councilwoman Ruehle wished the owner luck and that his company would stay around longer than other Sandpoint-Spokane companies. Always glad to see new entrepreneurial endeavors.
City Treasure’s Quarterly Financial Report
The main point of interest here is that a new state statute (Idaho 50-1011) which goes into effect July 1, 2017 now requires, posting of the financial report on the city website which will fulfill publication requirement instead of posting in the newspaper. Not having to publish these reports in the newspaper will result in savings to the city. Quarterly reports are required to be completed in 30 days and publication must be done within 60 days. In addition, the report must be on the council agenda and not given to the city council in packets as has been done in the past.
Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) Fire Department
Fire Chief, Ron Stocking reported on the joint powers agreement. There were a number of slides for this presentation. Some of the things that stood out to me:
- The JPA creates one culture, how flags are raised, collective bargaining for firefighters and some budgetary savings
- The JPA includes Sandpoint, Sagle Dover and Wrenco Loop
- The city withdrew from the contract with EMS to provide backup ambulance service two years ago this summer with the Chief’s advice because they “felt abused on the number of call outs required, yet the city has ambulance vehicles that are not being used.
- The Chief wants the JPA formalized as soon as possible and stated that “the greatest barrier to formalizing the JPA is strictly political.”
- Despite the Chief’s repeated assertions that formalizing the JPA would result in great cost savings (at one point stating that “thousands of dollars of savings would be realized” and then responded to a question by Councilwoman Ruehle about exact savings amounts with the figure of $30,000.00 “right now annually”) city administrator Jennifer Stapleton commented several times that “ The City of Sandpoint may not see significant dollar savings but would see efficiency increase moving into a more formalized government entity such as a permanent JPA.” She noted, “Savings would be more in efficiency and overall service to the community….overhead expenditures are already in place, those would not change, it’s really about efficiency efficacy of services .”
- When asked by the council if the Chief had contacted Kootenai, Ponderay and Northside regarding agreements, his response was that, “We have a mutual aid agreement and Northside is a volunteer district and for them to respond requires, extra time for them to come from their homes. When asked if he knew what Northside’s response time is he said, “I have no idea.”
- He was asked if he had seen improvement with volunteer recruitment he said, “It’s been up and down.” When asked about volunteer retention he said, “That’s a good question” and also stated that volunteerism is down nationally.
- The Chief cited future growth in Sandpoint and the commercialization of the airport as reasons that the JPA should be made permanent, stating “The JPA is a regional approach to public safety.” They’ve been contacted about the commercialization of the Sandpoint airport and this will require additional fire resources. There was discussion about all the Federal funding available for this but the city administrator remarked, “in terms of leveraging those dollars…the real issue in terms of looking at a station is supporting the ongoing costs as the federal dollars are not usually associated with ongoing costs.”
- The Chief wants to “continue to take on new partners” but didn’t state specifically what partners they would be looking to include. His less than enthusiastic attitude toward Ponderay, Kootenai and leads me to believe these will not be future partners.
- There is one data management tool being used now as a result of JPA so all information is being input for access of the entire department, Sandpoint total response time is 5 minutes 27 seconds.
- They’ve created a fantastic website and try as much as possible to be transparent as they can
- Rules, regulations, policies and training has been standardized
- Fire prevention is standardized in a uniform way
- With the JPA they have the ability to adapt to conditions
- Challenges are: cumbersome administration (because finances are kept separate much administration time is taken up), collective bargaining agreements are not the same
- Next steps: refine how they cost allocate and cost share, refine the function of the Board
- Future consideration: the council give the JPA financial control, (he used the example of how SPOT is run)
- The JPA Board now offers only guidance, a permanent JPA Board would have each agency dictating contract as to what the benchmarks are for their area (performance standards would have to be created in each area and additional savings would be realized)
- When Councilman Snedden asked the Chief, “Your motivation for formalizing the JPA is that purely political?” The Chief responded, “I think it’s 100% political”
- The Chief said, ““…we’re not messing with peoples levy rates or taxes we’re just taking what they’re already taking…utilizing what they’re taking from the public , if we were to go to our own fire district that would require going to the people and everyone would have to vote on one funding rate for the whole system.”
- When Councilman Snedden asked the Chief what specific partners he was looking to add, the Chief said he didn’t want to name them and then said, “The whole core of this county could benefit from this system, a lot of improvement can be done, EMS services also. If we sat down and brought all the players to the table I can’t see anybody could not agree that it would be a good thing.”
After all the mention by the Chief of “partners” I was interested to hear his answer to Councilman Camp’s question, “Have you been in contact with Northside at all?” The Chief said they were contacted by a Northside commissioner as to what services they could provide, the commissioner was provided with a list of services. The Chief said, “They have to formally come to us to find out what services we can provide and I’m not sure of the political climate over there.”
My Two Cents
As my husband and I had our “dream home” built not far from the airport, I found the Chief’s comments about commercial expansion of the airport a bit alarming. None of the homeowners in my area have been advised of any movement in this direction and this would directly affect our property value and safety.
I am all for efficiency but some of the comments by the Chief were perplexing. He repeatedly touted the financial gains from a formalized JPA agreement but the financial savings aspect was clearly negated by the city administrator. Is there already a $30, 000.00 annual savings as noted by the Chief or not?
Also, Chief Stocking brought up the “political climate” several times. What does politics have to do with public safety and why, by his own admission has he not contacted all the nearby cities regarding contracting for fire services? What is wrong with the politics of Northside? Who would be the ultimate “power” behind the JPA entity?
Is this an effort for the city of Sandpoint to broaden its reach and control into the county and how much can I believe about the willingness to “bring everyone on board” when it is clear that there are cities/districts the Chief does not want to work with? How exactly did EMS “abuse” the Fire Department regarding the number of call outs required?
What does it mean to “not mess with levy rates or taxes” and who is “they” who are “already taking money” and where does this money come from? Why is a vote by people in a fire district a bad thing?
There are way too many questions and far too few answers to make me comfortable with a permanent JPA, at least at this point.
Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.