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April 1, 2008

Toilet Not Included – Part 1

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 7:29 am
It’s difficult to imagine that putting what is touted to be a public safety building in Coeur d’Alene City Park would be a serious misuse of public money, taxpayer dollars.  You need not imagine it.  It will be happening within about 90 days.

The Coeur d’Alene City Council has approved buying a precast concrete building to be placed in City Park.  The building will be approximately 26 feet wide and 14 feet deep.  It will have one 6-foot wide steel rollup concession booth window and shelf in front and one pedestrian door in the rear.  No other doors and no other windows were identified in the quotation the City provided to me.  It will not have running water or a toilet.  There will be some interior lighting and one exterior light.  Its outside appearance will be similar to the public restroom in Cherry Hill Park. 

The building will be used primarily during the summer months as a staging area for police, fire, and EMTs during major events.  It is expected to cost between $50K and $60K.  It will be moveable in two sections but not mobile or portable.  Each move would cost at least $3,650 and probably a good deal more.  The charge is for labor to disassemble the building at the losing site and reassemble it at the gaining site, crane rental, and electrical reconnection.  Because the City failed to plan ahead to fund this project using the City’s financial planning process, the entire project will be funded with urban renewal money courtesy of taxpayers throughout Kootenai County, not just Coeur d’Alene.  Thank the local Bucket-O-Cash, the Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC).  The City has agreed to try and pay back the LCDC for half the cost in the next fiscal year.

This project is a bad idea.

“What!?” I hear you cry, “You’re opposed to Coeur d’Alene using urban renewal funds to put a precast concrete public safety building in City Park?  How dare you question the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars for a building that will be used occasionally during the summer, shuttered for nearly the rest of the year, and provide little benefit to most of Coeur d’Alene’s and Kootenai County’s residents.  You must hate the police, the fire department, the EMTs, schools, children, motherhood, and apple pie.”

No.  I’m just against wasteful spending and misusing urban renewal funds. 

Urban renewal money in Idaho is intended to fix blight.  To spend urban renewal money for this building is to say our City Park is blighted and deteriorating.  Apparently it will require a precast concrete building to remediate Coeur d’Alene City Park’s ugly blight of neatly trimmed and barefoot-walkable grass, colorful flowers, manicured bushes, and trees.  

I am opposed to any City agency (including the Police Department and Fire Department) misusing urban renewal funds to cover for their inept public administrators who ignore responsible and timely planning intended to ensure tax dollars are prudently spent.  I am against public officials, both elected and appointed, who sign off on this or any other project without first establishing:

  • There is a verified and justifiable need now or in the foreseeable future.
  • It will achieve specific identified objectives efficiently and effectively.
  • It benefits the greatest number of people.  Or stated negatively, it does not use public money to personally enrich a select group of people at the expense of others who can and will never benefit.
  • The amount and method of financing is lawful and appropriate.
  • It is not a political patronage payback.

This is the first in a series of five posts which will consider if this project has met those qualifications. Part 2 will discuss why and how the City justified this project now.  Part 3 will suggest who will benefit most and least from the project.  Part 4 will cover the questionable method the City used to fund the project.  It will explain how the funding method severely limited the building’s use.  Part 5 will conclude the series with some thoughts about how the project could have been managed to benefit the taxpayers at far less cost but with singificantly greater benefit to the taxpayers and the participating agencies.

Some of these posts will contain hyperlinks to documents obtained from the City and from the LCDC in response to my requests pursuant to the Idaho Public Records Law. 

The request to the City asked for these items related to the project:

  • Police department and fire department strategic plans for the preceding five years.
  • Staff reports for this proposed project prepared by the Police Department and fire Department or anyone acting on behalf of the Police Department and Fire Department.
  • Bid solicitations, if any, for this project.
  • Sole source justifications, if any, for this project.
  • All writings between the City and prospective contractors concerning this project.
  • Any other writings relating to this project.

Not all the information requested from the City was provided.  For example, only one-page strategic plans for years 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 were provided. 

The information about bid solicitations required an exchange of emails with the City when it became obvious the City had failed to provide the requested information.  (There were no bid solicitations.)  Likewise, not all writings between the City and prospective contractors were provided even after repeated requests.  For example, copies of emails from the contractors to the City contained attachments.  The emails were provided; the attachments were not. 

The request to the LCDC was for a copy of the completed LCDC Project Proposal Application and associated documents relating to the public safety substation approved for LCDC funding at the March 19, 2008, LCDC board meeting.  What I received in response was a letter from LCDC Executive Director Tony Berns with a copy of a two-page memorandum from Coeur d’Alene Finance Director Troy Tymesen (Page 1 of 2 and Page 2 of 2).  After looking at the LCDC Project Proposal Application and then comparing it with what Tymesen provided to the LCDC, readers can draw their own conclusions about the adequacy of the City’s cost-benefit analysis and the diligence of the LCDC board.

The opinions and conclusions in this and subsequent posts are based on the information I did receive. 

Next:  Part 2 – How the City’s public administrators tried and failed to justify an urgent need for the building. 

3 Comments

  1. Watching the LCDC approve this building floored me. Using their Jonathan Swift-like logic, there is conceivably no project within their district they cannot logically justify. This is bad government resulting from good intentions, and it’s why government must be run by a plan. When you’re not run by a plan, as the LCDC is (and is so on purpose), you get the kind of offensive show we have here in Coeur d’Alene.

    Comment by Dan — April 1, 2008 @ 8:11 am

  2. What is an EMT supposed to accomplish in a building devoid of water? They’re better off in their ambulances. Is this thing air conditioned or in any way vented? Why do firemen need an interim tiny structure like this? Are there any holding cells for detainees?

    Comment by Wallypog — April 1, 2008 @ 8:40 am

  3. Wallypog,

    You’ve asked precisely the questions I would have expected the General Services Committee, the City Council, and the LCDC Commissioners to ask — for a start. There are a whole lot more questions they should have asked before they ever roundly endorsed this project conceived by Christie Wood and propagated by the Half-Fast Marching Band of Tony Berns and Troy Tymesen. Then again, for some unexplainable reason, elected and appointed officials seem to think it’s a sin to dare to question police and fire officials about how they spend public money. Shame on every public official who reviewed this project, failed to question its need and benefit, and then voted for it. Only LCDC Commissioner Dave Patzer seemed willing to question the propriety and wisdom of spending the taxpayer dollars entrusted to LCDC on this bonehead project.

    The bad news is there was a far better way this project’s objectives could have been achieved. The alternative would have cost less and benefited all taxpayers in the City. That’s going to be in Part 5.

    Comment by Bill — April 1, 2008 @ 10:10 am

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