Dear Newsletter Readers,
Our warm summer weather has returned for awhile, thank goodness, but the local political scene is heating up even higher as we move toward the November city elections. My column appeared in last Friday’s CdA Press and, not surprisingly, it has caused a strong flashback from City Hall. (You can read a copy of my column below)
In response to my column, City Administrator, Wendy Gabriel, put a post up on the city’s “blog” site. This is a funny name for the site because the word “blog” infers that the readers can actually give feedback and participate in a discussion, but there is no such possibility on the city’s site. All the reader can do is accept whatever the city writes. It must be easier that way, but don’t call it a “blog” and then brag about “increasing communication” with the citizens!
In her “Fact Check” about my column, Wendy addresses my information on the 5% city franchise fees added to all cable, gas and electric bills. Wendy says the utility companies should pay for the use of the city right-of-ways in our front yards to run their wires and cables. But the reality is that these companies don’t absorb that cost. They pass it directly to the customer in a line-item on our bills called “Franchise fee”, which is sent straight to the city. So cut the run-around, Wendy, it’s basically a TAX, and an obscure, almost hidden one at that.
The city doesn’t DO anything to earn the franchise fees. And they do NOT have to impose the fees. Here are the current Franchise Fees listed on Avista’s web site:
City of Coeur d’Alene, from 1993, 5% fee
City of Hayden Lake, from 1998, 1% fee
City of Post Falls, from 2002, 1% fee
City of Hayden, from 2005, 1% fee
City of Dalton Gardens, from 2005, 1% fee
My thanks to the alert reader who sent me this info. Notice the obvious, that CdA is the only city to take a 5% fee, everyone else keeps it at only 1%. And CdA has been taking the maximum for a long time.
Troy Tymeson bragged at the meeting that CdA jumped on the new fees as soon as they were made legal by the state and took the maximum 5% allowed. He then continued to boast that the state quickly reduced the maximum to 3%, but CdA got to keep the higher 5% rate because they signed up early. (See how good they are at grabbing our money?) City Councilman Al Hassel remembered it differently and said it was 3% until the voters approved the increase to 5% to pay off the street improvements. Either way, much or all of these obscure tax-like fees were meant for the roads that are now paid off. But the city is continuing to take our money and will put it into their general fund. And it's no small potatoes.
The city will net TWO AND A QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS from these fees next year alone, according to the direct words of Troy Tymeson. So what was with the budget happy dance by the city council and mayor when they announced with a flourish that they'll hold the budget to a zero percent increase this year? That was only about $300,000 dollars, which is peanuts compared to the money from the little-known Franchise Fees that they will continue to take even though the street bonds are paid off!
And a quick word on the other topic in my Friday column, which was the city’s garbage service contract that has not been put out for competitive bid for 22 years: I have heard that Council woman Deanna Goodlander announced at a meeting Friday morning, as she referred to my column, that she is on the General Services committee and voted against bypassing the open bid process. That is true. Ron Edinger and John Bruning were the two who voted to give the contract to the current provider without an open bid requirement.
Deanna is close family friends with the gentleman who stood to repudiate the council for this decision. I’m glad she voted in favor of the open bid for the garbage contract, but I also wish she had been working, during her past eight years, for a consistent, fair, transparent policy for ALL city contracts.
During her time on city council, Deanna has voted in favor of many, many tax increases, the use of major public money for private projects without of vote of the people, and she sits on the board of LCDC, our urban renewal agency, which gives rise to tax increases throughout Kootenai County.
Deanna is up for re-election this November 3rd, along with Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers and Mayor Bloem.
Hope you have a great week. Here’s a copy of my column from last Friday:
CdA City Council...That’s Entertainment!
It never ceases to amaze me how entertaining city council meetings can be. Many folks assume they are boring or tedious, and that’s what I expect too, when I get up the gumption to attend. Yet, surprisingly, there’s often something that comes out of nowhere to make the meeting sing.
I attended last week’s council meeting to watch the budget decision, but was blown away by what I learned during comments made by the public.
Phil Damiano, owner of Coeur d’Alene Garbage Service, gave a passionate and informative presentation on the city’s garbage contract. I never knew garbage could be so interesting!
Phil documented, in great detail, his background and expertise in the waste collection industry. He went on to question why the City of CdA has not put their garbage contract out for competitive bid since 1988...that’s nearly 22 years without a bid. The contract is up for renewal next year, and Phil was quite unhappy that the city’s General Services Committee, made up of three city council members, recently voted to bypass the open bid process.
Does our city not have a Professional Services Policy like other public organizations? A policy that mandates a competitive bid or other accepted procurement policy for all ongoing contracts and significant purchases?
The savings can be tremendous, Phil informed us. He regaled the audience with inspiring statistics such as Kootenai County’s $3.5 million dollar savings, over the course of seven years, after they put their garbage contract out for open bid. Post Falls, likewise, saved a million dollars over four years by opening their bid, even though they stayed with the same company. Phil explained that the bid process motivates everyone, even the existing contractor, to offer the best possible value.
City Finance Director Troy Tymeson was dancing as fast as he could, in his answer to Mr. Damiano. Troy said the competitive bid process does not always net the lowest price, which, frankly, I had a hard time believing. He went on to eventually say the full city council will have a chance to vote on this in the future. I hope they vote to open the bid process so they can save us all some money.
Another unexpected source of information was Susie Snedaker, who questioned many budget items by page and detail. Susie asked about the franchise fees that are added to our gas, electric and cable TV bills. Did you realize that five per cent is added to your bills, which then goes to the city? This, apparently, started a number of years ago, by voter approval, in order to fund the street improvements on Ramsey Road and NW Blvd.
The street bonds will be paid off this year and Susie asked if the fees will be stopped or if a new vote will be taken to continue them. No, Troy Tymeson responded, the city will continue to collect the fees, $2,250,000 this year alone, and add them to the general fund. No new vote? Seems to me these fees are hidden taxes and will never go away.
Now you can see, dear readers, how fun and interesting representative government can be when you get involved. Please tune into the council meetings on your TV, channel 19, if you have cable (you can get your 5 percent’s worth!). Better yet, get out and go to a meeting. You will experience much more in person. You’ll see the line up of city department heads across the back of the room, the mishmash of citizens sitting in little groups, craning their necks to see who is coming in and who is sitting with whom. And you’ll witness the tantalizing testimony from members of the public, followed by the responses, or lack thereof, from the mayor, council and staff, which are often informative and, even more frequently, entertaining.