The City's Pulse Newsletter
Birds of Prey

It feels like defiant birds are circling, circling, circling.  Their target: The taxpayers of Coeur d'Alene.  And the prey doesn't stand a chance.

I attended the General Services meeting at the City of Coeur d'Alene this past Monday.  Three city council members listened as City Administrator Wendy Gabriel described the proposed agreement to "lease" the Harbor Center building and land to the University of Idaho for 99 years.  If the college chooses to renew the lease after 99 years, (mark that date on your calendars!) they can extend it out to 198 years.

What kind of foolishness is this? 99 year lease? or 198 years? This building was purchased through a Public Revenue Bond for the expansion of the city's Wastewater Treatment Plant.  We, the citizens of CdA, voted to approve the Bond and we paid higher utility rates for many years to pay it off.  Now the City is virtually giving the riverfront building and land to University of Idaho without so much as a public hearing to give the ratepayers a voice.  

And the price for this huge building with 7.5 acres of scenic riverfront property? Just over $1,000 per month. Less than most people pay for their home mortgage.  It's a total of  $1.3 million dollars over a 99 year lease. 
There is no appraisal on this building, it's value is undocumented.  But even we average citizens could estimate it's worth pretty closely.  If the DeArmond Mill site on the other side of the sewage plant is supposedly worth $588,200 per acre, then the Harbor Center's 7.5 acres are worth $4.5 million dollars.  Add another million and a half for the large building and we're up to $6 million, easily. 
So why would our city leaders take a $6 million dollar asset and basically give it to a State University for $1000. per month? 

This asset is owned by the citizens of CdA.  We are a city.  Cities do not tax for public education.  NIC taxes everyone in Kootenai County.  But the University of Idaho and all other public 4 year colleges are funded by the State.  Not cities.  So our city money should be going for city needs, not state level higher education.

Our Mayor and City Council will decide on Tuesday, June 17th, whether the taxpayers of Coeur d'Alene will have a $6 million dollar asset leased away forever to a state college. This value will be in addition to the $10 million dollar DeArmond Mill site NIC wants us to fund with the other taxpayers of Kootenai County.  The birds of prey are getting closer and they seem hellbent on their target: Our tax dollars without public input.

State Legislators Mike Jorgenson, Bob Nonini and Frank Henderson have all publicly asked the City and NIC officials to wait and review these proposals.  Business leaders like Dennis Wheeler of CdA Mines and Bob Potter, retired head of Jobs Plus have openly advised reevaluating the process. But City and NIC officials are not taking heed.  The Editor of the local paper has twice asked for caution, time and more public involvement before these decisions are made.  Yet no public hearings are planned.

At the city's General Services meeting, I was the only member of the public present.  Jack Dawson from U of I, ever the gentleman, was sitting next to me in the front row.  I raised my hand several times trying to ask one question: "Will you wait and hold a public dialog on this important decision?"  But the three council members on the panel, John Bruning, Deanna Goodlander and Ron Edinger, would not call on me.  They all looked away and pretended not to see me.  They approved the Harbor Center lease quickly and directed it onto the Agenda for next Tuesday's full City Council meeting.

I approached the panel of council members after the meeting and carefully expressed dismay at not being able to ask my question.  They responded, "We don't have to allow questions from the public."  Deanna Goodlander then added, with a sneer, "but you can write about it".  I assured her I would.  She then told me about the City Council meeting next Tuesday, warning "it's not a public hearing".  

There have been no open meetings to give citizens clear and specific information about this decision; no opportunity for public questions or input. There was no public hearing back in 2002, when Mayor Bloem signed the first MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) giving lease rights to U of I for 5 years.  There was no public hearing when that MOU was renewed in 2006, again signed by the same Mayor.  The '06 lease is good until 2010, so why is there such a rush to get this new agreement pushed through the system this month?  Why not wait and include the public, as our State Legislators and business leaders have requested?

The rush is probably because NIC needs the City's $1.3 million dollars from the U of I to help buy the DeArmond Mill site.  But that's city money.   How will the City of CdA  transfer $1.3 million in city money to NIC, which is a totally different taxing entity? 

Your guess is as good as mine, but rest assured, they will finagle a way.  The Harbor Center was the old Osprey Restaurant, and that seems appropriate.  The of Idaho's famous birds of prey.  They are circling, closer and closer, and we, the taxpayers, don't have a chance...or a voice.