Mayor Rognstad Wants A Raise
Sandpoint City Council July 5, 2017
by Anita Aurit
Fiber and Construction
It was reported that the city will need to award a contract for trenches to tie the water system into fiber. Evidently the estimated cost for this is $804,000.00. Councilman Aitken asked if this was a final estimate and was advised no. Bringing fiber up to the treatment plant would not be the first phase but if the fiber is added now, the future cost for making the fiber useable will be less. There are no plans to have active fiber in the Great Northern area or up to Mickinick. The council voted to approve the expenditure.
As a business owner who is forced to balance my budget and exercise fiscal responsibility, it is good to see the city implementing some of these policies. Some of the policy suggestions included:
Fund Balance Policy
The city treasurer, Shannon Syth, presented some policy guidelines for city finances. These policies would be designed to meet the city’s needs and implement sound financial principles and provide financial stability. They are also designed to mitigate current and future financial risks and provide reserves for emergencies (wind storm, damage, floods, snow damage, etc. ). Jennifer Stapleton advised the council that it would be a good idea to adopt the fiscal policies as developed by Shannon Syth in order to exercise good stewardship and build reserves.
Policy Resolution Proposals Would:
-provide financial stability
–-mitigate current and future financial risks
-proposal is to allocate 20-28% of the budget for this for funding unfunded state mandates, avoid short term borrowing. If the grocery tax repeal happens this would make a considerable difference in revenues. Monies would be used for potential litigation against the city and would also be available for opportunities such as developing and/or creating new parks, etc.) Whenever a reserve is used it is proposed or there is a budget shortfall, a plan must be implemented to replace reserve funds. The suggestion is an end of the year replenishing for the emergency fund and should be a minimum of 5% for operating reserves.
Other Reserve Fund Policy Proposals:
–Have in reserve monies for revenue expenditures that will not be available until next year.
-Prepare to put funds in reserves when a one- time spike in revenue happens
-Add to reserve funds when sales of fixed assets are made
-Make a policy limiting use for replenishing funds for items such as early retirement of debt, capital expenditures and other non-recurring expenses.
-Make an emphasis on future savings
Construction Reserve Policy
–Items in this category would include SURA funded downtown street policy items
-The city is now in the middle of a 3-year construction season. Monies for these projects would be ONLY for cash flow and NOT funding (while waiting for SURA reimbursements)
–SURA reimbursements will take place through 2029 and will be in the neighborhood of $7 million. The city will be required to front monies of about $4.5 million and reserves will be needed for this. Worst case scenario, the city will be left with $516,000.00 shortfall that is not reimbursed (unfunded balance). Jennifer Stapleton is looking to apply for a grant and other funding sources for this shortfall. Construction costs are coming in 20% over estimates. -construction reserve is temp, ends when street projects are finished, is a cash flow reserve .
-SURA downtown funded street project payments will be put in reserves
-Any excess in the Construction Reserve may be used on street projects (one-time capitol projects)
Councilman Camp asked how these policies and figures relate to the Cedar Street project that is currently over budget and how much of the downtown restoration project (sewer replacements from First Avenue to the Corner of Cedar is included in these figures. The response was that some projects may have to wait until the reserve fund is built up.
The Council approved the reserve policy guidelines.
Elected Officials Compensation Package Presentation
City administrator, Jennifer Stapleton made the presentation noting that these are suggestions and not open for vote at the July 5 meeting. The presentation is for the 2017/2018 budget and was made at the request of the mayor (for review of elected officials salaries).
Stapleton used a “Region 1” benchmark for salary comparison. All cities included employ a city administrator. This regional comparison includes Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Rathdrum, Moscow, etc.
City council members now receive $400.00 per month (plus insurance) versus the councils of the “benchmarked cities” of $667.00 monthly. The mayor receives $1200.00 per month as a part-time mayor. Compensation increases would take effect in 2018.
Any increases in compensation for elected officials would require a public hearing. One interesting thing I learned was that Planning and Zoning members are paid $30.00 per meeting.
Councilwoman Ruehle asked the question I was thinking, “Is the tax base and population of the cities used in these compensation comparisons considered as Sandpoint is much smaller than many included.” Jennifer Stapleton replied that, “The highest benchmarks are probably in larger cities.”
Then (and kudos and bravos to Councilwoman Ruehle), Ruehle asked if the “outliers” could be pulled from the benchmark comparison (the larger cities). She noted that she “would feel more comfortable if this was done.
The mayor then stated that both ends of the benchmark should be included, like Clark Fork, Ponderay, Bonner’s Ferry etc. Stapleton replied that these cities don’t participate in the benchmark studies so there is no data from them . The mayor, not willing to give up his point asked about Bonner’s Ferry and if they participated in the benchmarks.
There was much back and forth with Stapleton advising that they could provide whatever figures the council requested regarding compensation suggestions.
Councilman Aitkins wanted to know if the benchmarks included hours spent by the council and mayor in meetings. Stapleton replied that larger cities have more meetings and the council must also consider that they all have full time administrators.
The discussion ended with the council stating they would like more detail and Councilwoman Ruehle reiterating that she’d like to take the outliers out.
My Two Cents:
I thank Shannon Syth for her detailed and thoughtful policies for reserve funds. These policies will help taxpayers understand better how the city is spending our money and will also help the city be even more fiscally responsible and transparent.
Regarding the compensation increases for the elected officials, I am much less enthusiastic. When the job of city planner was being sold to Sandpoint the pitch was to enhance the efficiency of the city due to the “part time” nature of the elected offices. The Sandpoint Reader, in it’s August 28th article entitled “City Administrator Post Explained” noted, “It also clarifies the elected position of mayor, an office with a small salary you wouldn’t expect for an effectively full-time job. According to Logan, however, she’s been running the day-to-day operations of the city, putting her in the middle of establishing public policy with the council and than managing the execution of that policy.”
The city administrator position established in 2015 allocated over $100,000.00 in salary for the position and, as noted in the Daily Bee article, “Sandpoint Hires Stapleton”, “When residents first heard about the proposed position this summer, many balked at the salary it commanded. At just over $100,000 per year, the job carries more than twice the average Bonner County household income. According to Logan, those rates aren’t determined by the city—they work work with outside agencies to determine pay scales commensurate with Sandpoint’s size and the level of responsibility.”
According to Payscale.com http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Location=Sandpoint-ID/Salary the average salary in Idaho is $43,626.00 annually. The city administrator’s job is more than twice this average. I am not saying that Jennifer Stapleton is not doing an excellent job, nor am I saying her position should be eliminated. What I am saying is that I am not a fan of growing government. The increase in salary for the mayor is, in my opinion, too much. If we did not have a city administrator than I would have a different opinion. A salary of $1200.00 per month for part time work (and insurance benefits) is generous. According to a Sept. 22, 2015 article in the Reader, “The city administrator is intended to consolidate some of the workload of both the mayor—a position Logan said currently requires long hours for little pay—and existing department heads into a single position. This will hopefully provide a sense of continuity for new mayoral administrations and councils. In addition, the public works, finance, parks and recreation, fire and legal departments all face the possibility of their department heads retiring within the next several years, and a city administrator will help weather that transition, Logan said.”
One would think that the “long hours for little pay” issue had been resolved with the hiring of Jennifer Stapleton. And one would think that those seeking election as mayor or council person would be doing it as an act of civic duty. I attend most of the city council meetings and it has become clear to me that the bulk of the “heavy lifting” and day to day work, as well as planning is done by Stapleton.
Dec. 17, 2015 – Sandpoint Hires Stapleton, Daily Bee http://www.bonnercountydailybee.com/news/local/article_c5a15aba-a489-11e5-8c10-0bafdd29bb04.html
August 28, 2015 – The Reader – City Administrator Post Explained
September 22, 2015 – The Reader – City Administrator Candidate to Receive Public Vetting
Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.
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