Ding Dong the BID is Dead (We Hope)
Sandpoint City Council, August 2, 2017
by Anita Aurit
The meeting opened with announcements, two I found of note:
- There will be a public open house regarding Memorial Field. Locker rooms are now being worked on. Jennifer Stapleton, the City Planner stated that the public will be able to view the work on the lockers and other areas on August 20th.
- Stapleton announced that there would be a public workshop, date to be advised “next week” (note, at the writing of my blog, August 11th, I could find no date noted on the website for this workshop) for those interested in filing for city council.
Ding Dong the BID is Dead….Or is It?
The long awaited decision by the city regarding the Business Improvement District (and the forced tax attached to it) was the first order of business for the evening.
The council reviewed Roger Woodworth’s engagement report and discussed the two issues that had arose from Woodworth’s recommendations; halt the BID or retain it and reset the rates to zero. Two resolutions had been created to reflect each option.
Scot Campbell advised that whatever the decision, Idaho code specifies that written copies of the resolution be mailed to all BID members (I received my copy on August 11) and then a public hearing be set (the announced date for the hearing was September 6th).
Councilman Camp moved to terminate the BID, Councilwoman seconded the motion. Councilman Camp said that it was his belief that the BID did not provide benefit to the businesses taxed and that if the BID was terminated there was nothing stopping business getting together and forming groups in specific benefit zones.
Councilwoman Williamson said that she believed much of the problems of the BID lie in the boundaries. She too felt that if businesses felt a BID was valuable, a new one would arise that benefited those involved. She stated, “Retaining the boundaries is arbitrary and doesn’t serve the public well.” (if it would have been appropriate, I would have clapped after Camp and Williamson spoke!).
There was public comment, none of it favorable for retaining the BID. Councilman Camp asked when discussion would take place regarding the monies (which are forced tax monies from the local businesses) that are left in the BID funds and was told this would happen at the public hearing on September 6th.The resolution to disestablish the BID passed with Councilwoman Ruehle as the sole “no” vote, explaining the was voting “in solidarity” with her constituents who did not want to see the BID disestablished.
Contracts, Bids and Construction
I do not have a full grasp of contracts and bidding on these projects. The Century West Contract was amended and extended for the downtown street revitalization and sewer replacement project and the construction bid for the First Avenue sewer replacement, phase 1, was awarded to Earthworks Northwest.
New Vehicle but Does the City Know How Many Vehicles We Have and How They Are Used?
The purchase of a 2017 Ford F-250 crew cab pickup truck with a knapheide box was approved. Councilman Camp asked if the city had an inventory of vehicles and how they are used. The city administrator replied that there is no such inventory but there are plans to do this in the future.
Money, Money, Money – Budget Workshop
Jennifer Stapleton said that the city would be able to access the budget on the website. At the time of this writing, the narrative budget is online but not the actual budget. http://cityofsandpoint.com/home/showdocument?id=6589
The city budget is for fiscal year October 2017 – September 2018. This link to the narrative budget will remain, I assume until after the public hearing on August 16th. in advance of the public hearing set for Wednesday, August 16, 2017. The budget as is now is a balanced budget for $40,136,717. It is noted that “the revenue estimates and requests in the budget are both conservative and realistic.”
It’s evidently “good news, bad news”. There was a law passed by the legislature that personal property was not to be taxed when certain economic benchmarks were hit. In the convoluted explanation, the gist was that there was a property tax relief fund from overages collected from the resort tax. She said that normally that fund is about $2500.00 and not worth mentioning but this year the amount was $11,000.00 which means that the property tax increase will be decreased by $11,000.00. It was reported that the increase in property tax will be $10.42 per $100,000.00 property value but then it was noted that the figure is not correct (and indeed, the figure is lower in the narrative, half as much) soooo, if you want to know how much your property tax will increase before you get the notice, you might want to attend the public budget hearing on the 16th. Property tax is 10% of total revenues for the city.
Full time employees will increase by 3.5. The position of Deputy Finance Director will be eliminated when Shannon retires and the Deputy Director steps into the post of Finance Director.
There are $19,893.00 in city council expenses (council stipend and benefits). This reflects the increase in elected official’s payments. Whether these increases are approved will be determined after the Aug. 16th public hearing. Any changes in pay will be effective January 2018. The increase for city council members would be 666.94 per month (this amount does not reflect insurance benefits they receive). Councilman Eddy noted that he wasn’t a fan of voting for his own raise and wondered if there were other ways to assess elected official’s pay rates. Stapleton said there are many cities that set benchmarks, Councilman Snedden said that he was not in favor of increasing wages for elected officials. The benefits the council receives are a nice benefit for serving and he does not see higher pay as an inducement to get people to run, “nor would we want that to be a reason for people to run.” “It’s a public service.”
Stapleton suggested an increase in the mayor’s monthly pay from $1300.00 per month to $1537.27 per month. She said that she had, as per the council’s request, dropped the outlier cities (the top and the bottom, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston). This increase is for a job description of “part time” and does not reflect the insurance benefits received.
Councilwoman Ruehle asked when the last mayoral salary increase had taken place. The last increase was two years ago and was increased from $1000.00 monthly to $1200.00 monthly.
Stapleton then spoke about how she and department heads had moved some positions around to keep payroll expenses at a minimum. New hires included are a clerk and an administrative assistant but Stapleton recommended a risk management person rather than an administrative assistant Stapleton noted that a risk management position would be a higher salary than an administrative assistant but she believes they could “make up the gap.”
A new grants person has already been hired and the budget is looking to hire another person to oversee software additions. Stapleton also pointed out that grants have usually been budgeted at the beginning of the year (it was an “if we get a grant, we’ll do this project”). Now the grants are rolled into the general administration area which is why the figures are higher. She said this is better than guessing which grants “we may or may not get”) She said she anticipated there would be a balance of some BID funds.
In Capital projects there was an increase in the SPOT bus budget. She said that the board for SPOT is not timely in getting budget requests to the city so she based this amount on the increase they requested (late) last year.
There is a budgeted item for software for the city to make information more transparent, an increase in garbage fee increases was also included.
The city has a total legal budget of $590,179.09. There is one full time prosecutor, a civil attorney and a legal assistant.
The Parks and Recreation budget is over $6 million. There is a breakdown of expenses by park in the narrative budget. There was discussion with the council regarding the question Councilwoman Ruehle asked as to whether home owners realize that if there are areas of their properties on or near roundabouts they are required to do weed control. Stapleton said that the city would be following up with notices to these homeowners if they do not comply.
There will be new restroom construction at Great Northern because of vandalism (fire). Councilman Snedden asked if the city had received insurance compensation and was advised the payout from the insurance had been $35,000.00 and that the high cost of the new facilities was because construction costs had gone “sky high”.
Councilman Snedden asked if the budget included any monies for the off leash dog park and was told no. There will be projects for noise abatement at the shooting range.
There were no changes in staffing for the Economic Development department and there will be significant expense for a sub plan on North Boyer (the U of I land) as well as expenditures for new software to track the city’s 150 vacation rentals. aron Qualls said that the software would end up being revenue neutral as without it, they would have to hire a full or part time person to track the rentals. City Beach weed management is also included in the Economic Development budget as well as $20,000.00 for the comprehensive plan.
The Sandpoint Police budget that is proposed is $2,512,113. This budget includes taking parking enforcement back (which will run about $177,607.00. Diamond Parking was $85,000.00 per year. The Diamond parking contract was for downtown only and the city is proposing increased duties for these enforcement officers such as dog patrols in the summer, city beach parking, Ponderay Bail Trail, etc. The chief doesn’t want to pull regular duty officers off shift to do these jobs so these auxiliary officers will handle these tasks. The goal is for fair, consistent and proactive service. The police chief’s goal is for 20% community outreach (this has been about 17% in the past), continued funding for NAMI for mental health related holds.
There is also a software upgrade budgeted for dashboard which will allow the public to see where calls are coming from, etc. Councilman Snedden asked Chief Coon why there were two community enforcement officers budgeted and the Chief responded that their duties were no longer just parking enforcement but snow issues, removal of abandoned vehicles, etc. The mayor asked what the hours of the officers would be and the Chief said normally Monday through Saturday from 9:00am to 6:00pm, with some adjustment for special events. The Chief said there was one vehicle available for these officers. Councilman Aitkens noted that the BID owns a vehicle and wondered if the officers could use that one. Councilman Ruehle asked for more specifics regarding the mobile data project and the Chief said this would be for cameras and computers in the police vehicles.
Councilman Camp asked if the city had done a salary comparison for the police department and the city manager said yes and a 2% increase across the board had been included in the budget to reduce the turnover rate.
The proposed budget for the fire department is $1,378,720. Sandpoint works in the Joint Powers agreement with several other fire districts. The Chief will be working on business licenses processes (occupancy and inspections during business remodels). The question was asked if grants were included in the budget figures and the answer was yes, there were some grants included. Stapleton said there were some grants the city know were being awarded. The purchase rate for professional and technical items increased $2,000.00 and the council was reminded that Sandpoint is sharing costs for salaries for the chief, assistant chief and administration with two other fire districts.
Negotiations with fire fighters union are taking place and the line item for salaries in this budget reflects the negotiations. Councilman Camp noted that the fire department didn’t have the high turnover rate of the police department (which is 35%) and the chief responded, “People like us.”
The public works budget is a whopping $23,110,567. The budget includes the downtown sewer main project, the Farmin Park bank stabilization, dump station repairs, street projects, Oak Street pedestrian project, LED project and more. Councilman Snedden pointed out that the sewer capitalization amount budget last year was $170,000.00 and was $980,000.00 this year. The answer was that “We are currently under contract with JUB and we looked for an amount that would carry over.” Councilman Camp asked why there was no budget for railroad quiet zones and Ryan Lutman said he did not put it in the budget. Great Northern near Gooby and Boyer and Baldy would require bigger barriers and the money was needed for roads. Jennifer Stapleton said she was looking at the state budget surplus funding but that funding requires that projects take place in 2018.
One line item discussed was “improvements for Bonner Business Center.” It took me a minute as there is no Bonner Business center anymore and this is the property the city is leasing (at quite a nice rate) to Lead Lok. Stapleton said that the lease requires that repairs for HVAC over $5,000.00 must be paid by the city (translation=the taxpayers because that low rental rate they have will not cover amounts such as this).
My Two Cents
Kudos to Councilman Snedden for his remarks regarding increases in elected officials salaries. As this council and our mayoral position is considered part time and, as these are positions of service to the community, compensation should reflect this. Kudos to City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton for the narrative budget format that allows tax payers to look at revenues and expenditures broken down by department, project, etc. Her hard work is greatly appreciated.
I am appalled at the 2018 projected budget of of $40,136,717.00 for a town of less than 10,000. I am particularly dismayed after I learned that Bonner County worked long and hard to come up with a budget that cut a little over three and a half million dollars. I am shocked to see the growth of the budget in 4 years, from $17,545,719.00 in 2015, $18,357,910.00 in 2016 to the great leap to $39,419,820.00 in 2017 and finally, to $40,136.717.00 for 2018. What is happening here? It looks like the city is aggressively growing government.
I have grave concerns about the city budget, especially when you compare larger cities and their budgets. According to the information in Sandpoint’s narrative budget, the city of Coeur d’Alene has a population of 49,122 with an annual budget of $95,326,976.00, an expenditure of $1940.62 per citizen. Post Falls with a population of 30,453 has an annual budget of $52,845,056.00. They spend $1736.30 per person. The city of Sandpoint’s website states that the population as of 2014 is 7,760. Suburban stats note the population for 2016 at 7,365. Cubit notes the population at 7,984. I’ll take the higher number and say that the Sandpoint city population is 7,984 and we know that the budget is at $40,136,717., making the per person expenditure is $5,027.14. My per capita expenditure comments are not meant to point out anything other than the fact that, in my opinion, our city is grossly overspending.
Now one would think with such a budget and a population those of us residing in Sandpoint would have the best of the best. Still our property taxes will be going up. Another levy was recently passed for the schools (increasing property taxes) and simple things like snow removal continue to be an issue in town. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve called the city regarding snow removal on our street and been told, “We just don’t have the budget to get the plows out”, I could easily cover the increase in my property taxes for the city budget and school levy.. Just as I have to be fiscally responsible in my personal and business finances, I think it’s time the city was a bit more fiscally responsible as well.
Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.
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