Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Are e-readers the future of newspapers?

This year for Christmas, I bought Nicola a Nook, an electronic book reader from Barnes & Noble. It’s similar to its more popular counterpart, the Kindle, made famous by Oprah. It allows you to download books electronically and read them on a book-like computer screen.
I suppose it may seem odd to have a newspaper editor extol the virtues of such a device, but really, I’m completely on board, and I think these e-readers offer a glimpse of the future of newspapers.
First of all, these e-readers cut down on the cost of publishing. A typical e-book costs around $10, as opposed to $26 or more in a store. Of course, you eliminate the production costs — no paper, no book factory, no covers, no binding or glue. Then you eliminate delivery costs — no trucks, no fuel costs to take the book from the factory to the bookstore in Boise. Then you eliminate the overhead of the stores — the salespeople, the utilities, the rent, etc. Gosh, when you think of it, when you get rid of all those costs, you’d think a book would be practically free.
Now, I say these e-readers offer a glimpse of the future of newspapers. There are a couple of major differences between books and newspapers that keep e-readers unfeasible for the time for newspaper use.

You can read more about my take on e-readers and the future of newspapers in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kuna City Council members offer some relief to LID landowners

Kuna City Council members voted Tuesday night to ease the financial burden to the landowners participating in the local improvement district that’s funding the wastewater treatment plant.
Acknowledging that the new facility is oversized beyond service to the 2,700 acres of land in the LID, council members agreed to drop the price attributed to the LID and agreed to have the city pick up the remaining cost.
“We’ve discussed a balanced approach that helps the LID owners but also, unfortunately, puts a little bit of the burden on the city and a burden on the community,” council member Lisa Bachman said. “But given the way things have turned out, we didn’t have much choice.”
Based on preliminary assessment notices sent out in October, LID landowners are on the hook for about $27.4 million in construction costs for the sewer plant, which is in operation now near the southeast corner of Lake Hazel and Ten Mile roads.
Based on that assessment, a sewer connection costs $3,205.18. A landowner with 35 acres in the LID, for example, has a benefit of 105 sewer connections and an assessment of $336,543.90.
Under the new scenario approved Tuesday night, though, LID landowners are on the hook for only $25.3 million in construction costs. With that price tag, the 8,353 sewer connections promised in the LID would cost $3,028 each. So, for example, the landowner with 35 acres in the LID, would now be on the hook for $317,940.
The city also agreed to remove two pieces of property from the assessment roll totaling 253 sewer connections, dropping the total number of sewer connections to 8,100.
In the end, the city would need to make up the difference owed to the banks, which totals $2.8 million.
A revenue bond or judicial confirmation are two of the options for the city to come up with the money, Kuna Mayor Scott Dowdy said after the meeting Tuesday night.

You can read more of this story in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Freezing temps mean backyard ice rink

You couldn’t catch me complaining about our recent cold snap. Growing up in Upstate New York, I saw no shortage of below freezing temperatures during the winter. For those of you who do not know this, Upstate New York — the real Upstate New York, as in 5 hours away from New York City — is actually a province of Canada. As such, it was against the law to not play ice hockey.
The combination of freezing temps and the requirement of playing ice hockey led my dad one year to build an ice rink in our back yard.
The thought of a backyard ice rink has never left my imagination. And so it has come to pass this year that I have devised my own backyard ice rink. My son Luke, 7, and I had a blast all last week skating on the rink and slapping the puck around.

You can read the rest of this in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What do the people have to say about the Edward Jones building in Kuna?

It’s been almost exactly 75 years since the small white-brick building on the corner of Kuna’s Main Street and Avenue D has housed the Kuna State Bank, which closed up shop on Nov. 30, 1934.
But a requirement to repaint the “KUNA STATE BANK” letters on the outside of the building has sparked an interesting debate about whether the city of Kuna is taking historic preservation too far.
It’s one thing to require the building’s owner, Harry Knox, to restore the look of the outside of the building as much as possible to those days when people were driving Model T cars and Herbert Hoover was doing a good job as president. It is another thing to require the building’s signage to advertise a business that fell victim to The Great Depression.
So we put it to the people, with a Kuna Melba News online-only poll last week.

Find out the results in my Editor's Notebook in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Congratulations to Rich Cardoza and Doug Hoiland on Kuna City Council

We can now officially congratulate Doug Hoiland and Rich Cardoza, who were both confirmed as the top two vote-getters for two seats on the Kuna City Council after a recount last week.
A local businessman who runs an insurance agency on Main Street, Rich won re-election to a second four-year term. He has shown himself to be a contrarian voice on the council, voting against the streetlight fee, voting against annexations and seeking a closer review of the police budget. I think that’s what helped him get re-elected. Many residents, rightly, want to make sure there are some checks and balances on the council and that not everyone is simply rubber-stamping proposals placed before them.
I will offer that up as a suggestion and recommendation to newcomer Doug Hoiland. I put it to you, Doug, to make sure that you question decisions and proposals that are placed before you and hold them in skeptical regard. I ask you to remember that the city attorneys, the city engineer, the planning director, treasurer, etc., all work for the city residents and that you are our representation to them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's the next step for the Kuna Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee?

Work on the Kuna Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee continues full throttle.
A couple of weeks ago, the Kuna Melba News asked its online readers in our weekly poll what you felt the committee’s top priority should be.
We offered the choices of improving downtown Main Street, attracting new commercial development, attracting industrial manufacturers, marketing existing businesses and planning and organizing special community events.
With 56 percent of the vote, attracting new commercial development was the top vote-getter, followed by improving Main Street (14.6 percent), marketing existing businesses (12.2 percent) and attracting industrial manufacturers (9.8 percent). That message is pretty clear. But that doesn’t mean we’re only going to do one thing at the exclusion of all else.
When I think of the types of commercial ventures to attract to Kuna, I have some ideas of businesses that I think would do well here and that local residents want, such as a dry cleaner, a bowling alley, a movie theater and a skateboard/bike shop.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think. What businesses would you like to see in Kuna? What have I left out? What do you think would be successful? What business would you patronize? What kind of a manufacturer would you like to see in Kuna? Send me a letter: PO Box 373, Kuna ID 83634, or send me an email: Or simply post an opinion to this blog.

There is more of this column in my Editor's Notebook in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kuna LID protest hearings turn up some (scary) revelations

Kuna City Council members are expected to make a ruling or rulings in the next couple of weeks regarding the protest hearings held last week about the local improvement district that is funding the $27 million wastewater treatment plant.
City staff members are putting together their evaluations of the individual protests as well as the larger, overarching legal issues surrounding the LID itself. Primarily, that analysis is of a legal nature but also involves technical considerations of certain specific properties and their encumbrances from the LID. It appears that City Council might make a ruling at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 15, but nothing has been scheduled yet.
One of the biggest shocks of last week's protest hearings, for me, came when one landowner said he needed more information from the city in order to make a business decision about what to pay or even whether to pay. He cited a clause in the city’s assessment notice that reads, “the city may increase any assessment or assessments up to twenty percent (20%) of the original amount thereof without giving further notice and without holding a new hearing.”
He drew blank stares from council members Lisa Bachman and Jeff Lang, who apparently had no idea what he was talking about.
Yikes. Either they didn’t get a copy of the six-paragraph assessment notice or they didn’t read it closely, or they didn’t read it the two times it ran in the Kuna Melba News, even though the notice is signed, “By order of the City Council.”
It’s scary that the decision makers aren’t paying very close attention to the biggest issue facing the city in probably decades.
They’d better start paying attention, because I can guarantee you everyone else is paying close attention — especially the banks’ lawyers who attended last week’s hearings.

You can read more of this editorial in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

City of Kuna hires two new city attorneys

The city of Kuna has a new city attorney — two city attorneys, actually.
Kuna City Council members last week approved a contract to hire lawyers Richard A. Johnson and Richard T. Roats to serve as city attorneys. They will be paid $100,000 per year.
They replace city attorney Randy Grove, who resigned last month, citing conflicts with his role in the formation and execution of the local improvement district. That issue appears headed for a lawsuit, and Grove said he would find it difficult to serve as counsel to the city and as a witness in the matter. His last day was Nov. 6.
Grove’s salary was $93,540, but health benefits pushed the cost to the city well over $100,000. A $100,000 contract without health benefits actually saves the city money, according to Kuna Mayor Scott Dowdy.
Dowdy said he received inquiries from a number of candidates interested in the position. Dowdy said that he, city engineer Gordon Law and city planning director Steve Hasson interviewed three of the candidates, and all three agreed independently that Johnson and Roats were the top candidates.

You can read the rest of this, including the backgrounds on Roats and Johnson, in my Editor's Notebook in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Glad that the goofy season is over

Now that the goofy (election) season is over, let me share with you a few more words of wisdom I plan to share with my boys:
“After a while, everyone will stop listening to the guard dog that is constantly barking.”
“The man who sees everything in black and white apparently lacks gray matter.”
“People who have all the answers are usually making up the questions.”
“If you seem to be getting into a fight with everyone you come across, ask yourself, ‘What’s the common denominator?’”

Also in this week's Editor's Notebook in the Kuna Melba News, you'll learn the back story behind the big American flag in Sandstone Plaza. But you have to buy the newspaper to get it. No free lunches.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

City of Kuna backs off powerline ban

It looks like the city of Kuna is backing down from Idaho Power in its dispute over the placement of power lines along Meridian Road and Kuna-Mora Road.
City planning director Steve Hasson tells me that he sent an email to City Council members on Monday letting them know that he’s removing the language in a text amendment to an overlay district ordinance that would ban any new utility structures within 660 feet of the highways.
I applaud the city for making an effort to try to make the city look nice, but I think this is a wise retreat. Idaho Power was holding up a franchise fee agreement that could bring in $100,000 in new revenue to the cash-strapped city budget. Plus, it seemed to me that the city was going a little overboard on keeping power lines out of the Meridian Road corridor.

You can read more of this in my Editor's Notebook in this week's Kuna Melba News. I'm also writing about an Urban Land Institute study in Kuna, the Kuna Chamber of Commerce's economic development committee and an update on the city park ballfields.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On fighting and conflicts of interest in the city of Kuna

As we enter the final couple of weeks of this Kuna City Council campaign, I want to implore our readers to make an informed decision, and I ask all Kuna residents to quit our seemingly obsessive compulsion for silly rumor-mongering and inaccurate perpetuations of tired myths.
We’ve had a couple of council candidates of late start leveling accusations of conflicts of interest on the current council and we had one candidate who, as far as I know hasn’t been to a single council meeting, tell the Boise paper that he’s tired of seeing all this fighting on the council.
I write this not as a defense or an endorsement of the sitting incumbents. To the contrary, there are plenty of issues that an informed, intelligent candidate can raise as a legitimate campaign platform: the handling of the local improvement district and the $27 million bill for the wastewater treatment plant, the $324,000 gaffe in last year’s budget, the elimination of funding in this year’s budget for the Zone, the Boys & Girls Club, the Chamber of Commerce.
But this insistent issue of conflicts of interest simply doesn’t hold much water.

If you want to read the rest of this editorial, you'll have to buy a copy of this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We're in the midst of the goofy season

The Kuna City Council race is starting to get weird and heated. With 10 candidates running for two seats, it shouldn’t come as much surprise. In 15 years in the newspaper business covering dozens of cities in five states, I can assure you that Kuna is not unique in its penchant for small-town politics and bickering over petty slights.
But I can assure you that it’s never really much fun and it usually adds little to civil debate about issues.
You know that saying that the only two things certain in life are death and taxes? I would like to add another: Fights over campaign signs during an election. From Carlsbad, N.M., to Chardon, Ohio, to San Mateo, Calif., to Greece, N.Y., it’s always the same. Usually it’s about someone stealing someone’s campaign signs. In Kuna at the moment, we have some confusion over where campaign signs are allowed. Apparently, the signs are allowed on public property, but they can’t be in the public right-of-way, which apparently is where some candidates are placing their signs.
Terribly pressing issue that will decide the fate of the universe, right?
One of the candidates, Dave Szplett, wrote an email to all of the candidates saying, “I am amazed that nine people believe that they are qualified to run for city council but can’t even figure out what is public property. Worse, is how can someone break the sign law and still ask for the public’s trust. Maybe the news people will write up something on this obvious issue. Maybe if they cared.”
That spurred another candidate, Corinna Stiles, to respond, “And I’m amazed that a council candidate would be so disrespectful to his peers and make allegations towards people he knows nothing about. Perhaps that’s the issue for the news people.”
For those of you who plan on basing your election decision on road signs, I have noticed another candidate who should be getting your attention: Mr. Blowouts, Sprinkler Blowouts. He even puts his phone number right on his sign.
Speaking of Szplett, I had the hardest time getting a hold of him for our candidate essays. He wouldn’t answer his phone when I called and he wouldn’t return my emails.
Cheryl McCord and Bill Clark, Kuna Farmers Market organizers, had similar problems when they organized Meet the Candidates sessions at the Market. They received responses back from the other nine candidates, all of whom attended, but no response from Dave.
At the insistence of one of our readers, Szplett did finally submit an essay. But here we are again. I’ve asked the candidates to answer a few questions about police services, the LID, etc. Eight responded without any problems. On Oct. 8, I received an email from Szplett’s email account: “The Professor is still elk hunting. Elk season runs through Oct 12th but deer continues until October 20th. Maybe he’ll be here sooner.”
But then I saw him at El Gallo Giro the very next day. Odd. No elk in sight.
The next day, another email: “I am the Professor’s clerk. It appears that he was in Kuna for a short time yesterday. I have a bunch of notes from him. He reports sending out “some” emails. There were lots of them before he started though. Did he get to yours? I hope that he responded to your needs. If you need anything more, he should be back in town late on the 21st. He has jury duty on the 26th though. He never sits idle.”
Although voting is the most basic and pure expression of democracy, I’ll be glad when the goofy season is over.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ray's in the dog house with the city of Kuna

Ray’s Dog House, on Main Street in downtown Kuna, makes a great hot dog. I’ve also had the pleasure of enjoying their chorizo and their Philly cheesesteak on more than one occasion. Perfect grill marks, onions and peppers grilled to perfection. French fries were an excellent addition to the menu earlier this year.
Unfortunately, it seems that Ray’s Dog House is itself in the dog house with the city of Kuna.
In just the past couple of months, Dog House owner, Ray Carrel, has been kept running from violation to violation issued by the city’s building inspector. Complaints against the Dog House include everything from grease disposal to the width of the gate to the steps into the building to a hood over the grill and fryer operations and apparent issues with the cooler.
My hope is that the city will work with Ray and give him time to address their complaints. And I hope Ray will get done the things he needs to get done so that he can stay open and continue to grow his business. Then on July 15, 2010, the day his temporary business permit expires, that seems like the more proper day to determine the future of Ray’s Dog House in Kuna.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kuna local improvement district issue coming to a head

Kuna City Council members are scheduled to meet with property owners who are part of the local improvement district that’s funding the new wastewater treatment plant.
Council members will meet in a special meeting with LID members starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at City Hall.
The council scheduled the meeting after getting out of executive session last week. The executive session was held to discuss litigation or potential litigation on two cases, according to city attorney Randy Grove. One case apparently concerns potential litigation over the local improvement district.
Grove said “there is a noticeable rise in the anger and tension” among LID owners as he saw at a meeting a couple of weeks back. That’s certainly understandable.
The ironic thing in all of this is that LID members jumped into the LID four years ago under the assumption that they wouldn’t be able to develop their property at all if they weren’t a part of the LID. But now, landowners who are not in the LID may actually have an easier time developing their property and purchasing sewer connections on an as-needed basis. It seems to me that the LID owners have plenty to be disgruntled about, and the city would do well, however late, to listen to their concerns.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Add a small caveat to the debate over small houses in Kuna

Mic, a general contractor and Kuna business owner, pulled me aside after the meeting to point out something regarding a column I wrote a couple of weeks ago about smaller house sizes in Kuna. I think it’s a good point that’s worth repeating. Mic said that smaller houses, valued at, say, $87,000, don’t pay nearly enough in property taxes to cover provided services. That’s why it behooves the city to require larger house sizes that generally have a higher assessed value, which in turn triggers higher property taxes. With smaller house sizes and not enough property tax to cover provided services, the end result will be higher taxes for everyone.
I pointed out that my column did say that I agree with allowing smaller houses temporarily, as a short-term fix but not a long-term solution. This fiscal year, for example, the city is expecting to collect about $1.4 million in property taxes. Nearly all of that — $1.24 million — goes toward police services. The city relies on building activity for a large chunk of its general fund revenue, which totals $2.8 million this year.
In 2009, smaller houses, which pay the same amount as large houses in building permit fees, have made up the bulk of single-family building permits. Had the city prohibited builders from building these small houses, the city’s coffers would have been considerably smaller. If the city were to disallow small houses in the coming 12 months, the city might see a fraction of building permits pulled. If that were to happen, the city could see its $300,000 in annual building permit revenue decimated. Then, come next year’s budget cycle, the city would be faced with either making hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts or, you guessed it, raising taxes. More likely a combination.
So, as I suggested in my column, the city should allow some smaller houses now to capitalize on the market trend but not let it go on indefinitely.
That said, Mic pointed out that I should have taken it a step further. The city needs to come up with a formula for determining just how many small houses, medium-size houses and large houses are required in order to strike the proper balance, not only for the look and feel of the city but also for the financial impacts they have on the budget.
That’s an excellent suggestion. I would like to see Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council members have a tool like that the next time a developer comes before them requesting smaller houses.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Some life lessons for my two boys

Dear Luke and Robert,
You boys are growing up to be fine young men, and it has been the great joy in my life to have watched you grow up these past few years. While I’m thinking of it — and before you grow up too quickly — I thought I’d share with you some of the life lessons your dad has learned along the way.
My favorite job title: Dad. Not editor, not business owner, not journalist, not newspaperman. My favorite thing to be called is Dad. I never tire of hearing you boys call me Dad. It’s my favorite thing to be. I hope you get a chance to be a dad some day.
Best compliment your wife can give you: You’re a good man. Do things that will make her say that often.
My favorite slogan: Just do it. With acknowledgments to the old Nike advertising campaign, I find this slogan holds up in many job and life situations. There are always a thousand excuses NOT to do something. There were plenty of reasons not to quit my newspaper job to buy a weekly newspaper 2,000 miles away in Idaho. Along the way, I have found that just about every business decision — every life decision, for that matter — you make, there are plenty of reasons to keep you from making a move. Sure, be careful and studious and thoughtful, but at a certain point, after deliberate consideration, Just do it.
To steal another quote, this time from Woody Allen, 80 percent of success is showing up. Although meant as a joke, I have found this to be true in life. And just showing up is often the hardest thing to do. I think about attending every City Council meeting for the past three years. I think about getting up and out the door early in the morning to go to a school board meeting. I think about driving to Rathdrum for a state playoff game. Just show up and find out what happens. In a lot of ways, this one goes back to the Just do it lesson. Just showing up, you’ll find, puts you ahead of most people.
I have more in this week's Editor's Notebook in the Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Will it be possible for the city of Kuna to compromise on smaller house sizes?

The city of Kuna should be in for some tough decisions regarding smaller lot sizes and smaller houses.
Right now, the city of Kuna is the hottest real estate game in town, mostly because of the quick sales of some of the smallest houses in the Treasure Valley. At 850 to 1140 square feet, houses in the Silvertip Subdivision, south of town off Luker Road, have been flying off the shelves, something to the tune of about 50 houses built and sold in just the last three or four months.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the new residents of these houses, and they are to be considered a welcome addition to Kuna. One woman I met, a widow who moved back to the Treasure Valley from Florida, was looking for a smaller house and yard to take care of but large enough to hold a lifetime of belongings. The one-story, 1100-square-foot house was perfect and the small town of Kuna reminds her of the town she was born in in Kentucky.
She will be turning her entire back yard into a vegetable and flower garden — no lawn to mow. She’ll have no stairs to climb, but she’ll have enough room for relatives to come stay with her.
In a way, she’s a perfect argument for building smaller houses. She’s a model citizen and she’s part of a growing generation of empty nesters looking to downsize.
However, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, city planning director Steve Hasson recognizes that we have to avoid becoming the “starter capital of the world.”
I think Hasson has the right idea with allowing some concessions in the short term without making blanket changes to development agreements.
For example, if someone with a 100-house subdivision wants to build smaller houses, let him build one phase of 20 or 30 houses at a smaller square footage but require houses thereafter to be larger.
That way, the city can keep the hot Kuna market going and still protect its future.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Job perk: Meeting some great people right here in Kuna

What a great job I have. Just in this week’s issue alone, you can tell I had the opportunity to meet some really fascinating people. This is my job. I get to meet great people, interview them, write down what they have to say, then share it with the community. Unbelievable.
I’ll start with Russell Hayes and the family of Abdul Farhan Salman, the Iraqi family who now live in Kuna because of the efforts of Russell and several others.
Russell is an unassuming person, quiet, humble. He believes in providence and miracles. Well into his 50s, he gets called up for military service in Iraq. Rather than fight his deployment, his wife tells him that perhaps he’s being sent there for a reason. He goes to Iraq, meets a family in need and helps them come to the United States. Russell almost seems to shy away from taking credit, preferring instead to list off the names of all the people who helped.
But, obviously, were it not for Russell, these folks would not be here.
Abdul, himself, is a welcome addition to the city of Kuna. We should be proud to call him neighbor. He is to be considered an American hero. Putting his and his own family’s life at risk, he refused to act as a terrorist and turned down a request to help others kill Americans in Iraq. You hear stories all the time about roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Yet here is someone who refused to go along with one such plot and in the process saved countless untold American lives. And he paid a serious price. He lost a nephew, who was kidnapped and beaten to death for refusing to aid the terrorists.
I had the great good fortune of being invited to lunch at this family’s home a few weeks ago. What an honor I felt to share a meal with this family. I am proud to have them as my neighbors, and I can only hope that their children will go to Crimson Point and perhaps my own sons can become their friends.
And speaking of school, another terrific person I got to meet was Donene Rognlie, the new principal at Hubbard Elementary School.
Donene is just what the Kuna school district needs. She is fired up about teaching, about education, about methods of educating, about helping students learn and about helping teachers teach.
And best of all, she’s from Kuna. She’s a 13-year club member and Kuna High graduate, inspired to teach by one of her Kuna teachers. She has taught in Kuna for the past 12 years. Her first year of teaching was in Melba.
It is heartening to see the Kuna school district recognize internal talent and reward that talent by promoting from within. In fact, Donene told me that she would have waited for a principal opening in Kuna rather than go to Nampa or Meridian. That tells you two things. One, she loves Kuna and doesn’t want to leave, and two, she was still happy teaching and could have continued teaching indefinitely. She wasn’t moving up just for the sake of moving up or getting ahead. Congratulations to Donene and congratulations to the district for moving her up.
This job affords me a tremendous opportunity to meet such a wide range of people, and I think I’ve taken advantage of that opportunity over the past three years. It still amazes me, though, just how many wonderful people can live in one small community.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In defense of urban renewal district in Kuna

It seems that it is necessary to back up the trains on the urban renewal district debate. Since writing about the issue a couple of weeks ago, I’ve received a couple of letters to the editor and a couple of posts at my blog. The responses have been largely arguments against urban renewal districts, that Kuna just shouldn’t even go there.
I feel this is an important and good debate, and I think it’s good to step back and discuss the merits and drawbacks of urban renewal to see if there’s some sort of middle ground (time limits on frozen values, who is elected to run the district, limits on indebtedness, etc.)
Properties within an urban renewal district still pay taxes to pay for services up to a “frozen” amount, the amount at the time of the formation of the district. Property owners still pay money to the library district, the fire district, the cemetery district, etc.
Without urban renewal, though, you’re probably just going to see stagnation of property values and even worse, a decline in property values, which would provide less property tax revenue for everyone. Property owners, particularly in historic downtowns, need more help because the buildings are older, infrastructure is older, existing sidewalks need to be upgraded and widened, aging facades need to be improved, parking lots need to be carved out of existing developed spaces — all problems that new buildings don’t face.
Everyone benefits from an urban renewal district because it improves a city’s core, its identity, attracting other businesses and investors and bringing residents down to the rehabilitated area. With more businesses, the tax burden is eased on everyone.
The reality is that time and again, when a city does nothing, what has happened across the country is that these downtowns deteriorate and become a blight and a drag on the entire community. The record is rife with American cities that let their historic downtowns deteriorate only to come back years later to try to rehabilitate them.
The reason the area along Kuna’s Main Street is unique is because these are historic structures that speak to Kuna’s history, which is its identity. A Walgreen’s or Outback Steakhouse, while providing vital services to residents, don’t really distinguish themselves as unique to Kuna. Further, because these are older buildings with older infrastructure, they need a little more help than a brand new building.
In addition, a major problem we have here in Kuna is one of perception. Downtown is not just a bunch of bars. In downtown, we have a gift shop, an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a hardware store, a couple of thrift stores, a consignment shop, convenience stores and gas stations, a post office, a community hall, as well as service offices, such as a newspaper, investment adviser, dog grooming, insurance, accountant.
But make no mistake, bars and restaurants are a major draw to bring people downtown. They are the foundation upon which you get people downtown, walking around, visiting, browsing, window-shopping, which leads to other businesses moving downtown. The historic downtown is the only place that can provide a unique experience that tells people, “You are in Kuna.”
Finally, what alternative is there? If the city does nothing, the historic downtown will continue to deteriorate, businesses will continue to flee downtown and move into nondescript strip malls scattered here and there, and the downtown buildings will become vacant shells that are a blight on our city. Then what?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kuna should be careful to keep an open government

If you weren’t the owner and editor of the local newspaper, you probably didn’t go to the city of Kuna’s web site,, to check out the agenda for the Aug. 4 City Council meeting.
If you were just an average citizen who lives in, say, the Crimson Point subdivision, you probably wouldn’t have noticed an item on the agenda under “Old business,” something labeled, “REQUESTS SUBMITTED BY GREG JOHNSON, POWDER RIVER DEVELOPMENT, RE CRITERION ORCHARDS SUBDIVISION APPLICATION:
i. Reduction of fees for processing of development application and
ii. Modify minimum size residential sq. footage.”
Now, as an average citizen, you likely wouldn’t know that Criterion Orchards is a proposed development on the east side of Meridian Road, north of Hubbard Road. Being a resident of Crimson Point, you probably wouldn’t have given this agenda item a second thought. You probably would not have even clicked on the link provided for the item.
But if you had done that, you would have found a memo from city planning director Steve Hasson and a letter from Greg Johnson outlining a proposal to reduce the houses sizes in Crimson Point North from 1,550 square feet to 1,200 square feet.
Wait a minute, you might say. Crimson Point? But the agenda item says Criterion Orchards. Yikes, and it’s 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and I haven’t made plans to attend the meeting. This is a lot of work for an average citizen. Needless to say, no one was at the Aug. 4 meeting speaking out about Johnson’s proposal to reduce house sizes. Council members began discussing the item, recognizing the shifting marketplace and the demand for smaller houses, etc.
But I had to interrupt. Why was this item under old business, I asked. City Clerk Lynda Burgess said she put it under old business by mistake. But then I asked why this was not a public hearing. Hasson said that the 1550-square-foot requirement was a condition of approval and not part of a development agreement, so it didn’t need to be a public hearing.
But weren’t the conditions of approval part of a public hearing, I asked. In which case, shouldn’t the changing of a condition of approval be part of a public hearing?
After conferring with city attorney Randy Grove, Hasson returned to report that, yes, indeed, changing this condition would require a public hearing, it would be properly noticed and put before council again at a later date at a public hearing, at which the public can weigh in on the merits of reducing house sizes.
Now, I am perfectly willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t like to throw around accusations freely. But, boy oh boy, this one really stinks. This was placed under old business, under another subdivision’s name without proper notice.
Full disclosure: I live in Crimson Point, not far from Crimson Point North, so I have a personal vested interest in the matter.
I think the city faces an interesting debate on minimum house sizes in this market. The ridiculous success of Silvertip with houses 850 square feet to 1300 square feet is telling. The city wants and needs building permits, accompanying revenue from fees and customers for the new treatment plant. Some folks in Crimson Point, likewise, may want more residents to help share homeowner association dues and costs to run the new pool.
The debate will be interesting. But let’s make sure we have a debate. I would warn city officials to avoid trying to pull one over on the good residents of this city.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Let's get moving on an urban renewal district in Kuna

Talk has begun once again on establishing an urban renewal district in Kuna. As I’ve written before, I’m in favor of an urban renewal district, and I think we should get started on it as soon as possible. The lull in the economy gives Kuna an excellent opportunity to work on this before the Wal-Marts and Targets and Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouses start setting up shop on our doorstep.
My biggest concern is downtown. A city’s downtown is its identity. Without its downtown, a city — any city — is merely a collection of subdivisions, chain stores and chain restaurants. Without our downtown, we might as well be Meridian.
My feeling is that the urban renewal district should encompass “downtown,” that is, Main Street from Linder Road to Avenue E. Any property with a Main Street address should be included in the district. Main Street should be narrowed to two lanes, with the center turn lane eliminated. The sidewalks on both sides should be widened to accommodate outdoor seating for the restaurants and bars. The city should actively seek federal grants to assist downtown building owners in improving facades, preferably restoring them to historic appearances. Kuna’s design review committee should have a big say in this.
What do you think? Send me a letter at PO Box 373, Kuna ID 83634 or an email at or post a comment to this blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kuna City Council should be doing more talking and more cutting in the budget process

Kuna City Council members should be working harder to come up with some cost savings in next year’s city budget in an effort to avoid a property tax hike. They should also be working harder to get rid of a streetlight fee that was passed earlier this year as an emergency measure.
Over the past several budget workshops that I’ve witnessed, City Council members aren’t doing much questioning and they’re not doing much discussing about the budget. They’ve been receiving reports from department heads, but from what I have observed, they haven’t really been talking about or considering cost-cutting measures or looking at keeping property taxes flat.
For example, council members received a report from Lt. Kody Aldrich, Kuna’s police chief, on a $1.24 million contract with the Ada County Sheriff’s Office for police services, a basically flat budget from the current year. But no one asked him about cutting the budget, perhaps doing with one less deputy or cutting elsewhere in the budget. I’m not saying that would be a wise idea, but let’s at least explore the possibility.
These are difficult economic times, and many of our households are down to one income or even worse, unemployment, or a lesser-paying job, or making ends meet with a couple of part-time jobs. The city should be doing all it can to lessen the burden on its residents in times like these, not raising property taxes.
Just one example is a $33,500 line item for park capital expenditures, which include $8,000 for new trees, $10,500 for a new service mule and $15,000 for a council-designated project. Those should all be eliminated.
I’m certain there are more areas that can be examined. City Council members, in my estimation, should be doing a lot more talking — and a lot more cutting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bravo to Ted Mason for Kuna Family Movie Night

In case you missed the first free Kuna Family Movie Night in the Park last Friday, it was one heck of a great community event. About 450 people showed up for the event in the Kuna city park. There was live music from the Dan Sevy Band, and the movie started around 9:30, just as the sun was setting and the temperatures fell to tolerable levels.
All around, it was a great family atmosphere. People were hanging out on the lawn, spread out on picnic blankets and lawn chairs, visiting with their neighbors and families, children darting around, teens milling about. Food vendors were doing a brisk business, from what I could tell, but people also brought their own popcorn and drinks to enjoy during the movie. The event was completely 100 percent free to attendees — a great thing considering these difficult economic times. I know some folks have fallen on tough times, and it’s a great thing to be able to provide a fun family event like this at completely no cost to those in attendance. No hat was passed around, no one was asked to make a donation.
But as we all know, nothing comes for free. Friday’s inaugural Kuna Family Movie Night in the Park was hosted by Ted Mason Signature Homes.
He’s excited to be building a community in Kuna, and he’s excited to be a part of the Kuna community.
While many have talked about starting a movie night in Kuna, Ted actually went ahead and did it. He said there’s a movie night in Boise and in other Treasure Valley cities, so why not Kuna?
Turns out that the cost of putting on a movie night was perhaps a little more expensive than expected. I’m happy to report that many Kuna businesses have stepped up and helped defray some of the costs of the movie night.
Among the Kuna business sponsors: the Kuna Melba News, Freedom Fitness, the Kuna Farmers Market, Kids Independent Day School, Kuna Dental, El Gallo Giro, J&M Sanitation, Leffler’s Uptown Bistro and Treasure Valley Gift Shoppe.
Even with these business sponsors, Ted Mason is still spending a good amount of money out of his own pocket to make the movie night happen. What I’d like to see and what I urge every business in Kuna to do is to put up some money toward sponsoring the Movie Night.
Perhaps some day, the city of Kuna will provide amenities like Movie Night, but until then, let’s show everyone that the Kuna business community can step up and provide a terrific family event.
You don’t have to be a big spender. If enough businesses give just $25 or $50 or even $100, the whole event can get paid for.
The next movie night is Saturday, Aug. 15, with Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (the 1971 version with Gene Wilder). After that is Friday, Sept. 11. If you’re a local business and you think you can swing $25 or $50 next month and September, call Barbara Johncox at 407-0759 to become a sponsor.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ignoring state law is not a good idea

Idaho sure does have some silly laws.
Take, for example, Title 39, Chapter 26, otherwise known as the Fireworks Act of 1997.
Basically, in the state of Idaho, people can set off only “nonaerial common fireworks,” which means “any fireworks such as ground spinners, fountains, sparklers, smoke devices or snakes designed to remain on or near the ground and not to travel outside a 15-foot diameter circle or emit sparks or other burning material which land outside a 20-foot diameter circle or above a height of 20 feet. Nonaerial common fireworks do not include firecrackers, jumping jacks or similar products.”
Anything else is prohibited.
Ha, good one. For those who live in Kuna, you know what a joke this law is. The sky over Kuna on the Fourth of July is lit up “like a war zone,” as one fire official put it to me.
Kuna police responded to only 16 complaints of illegal fireworks this year, which strikes me as a low number, as I would estimate five or six aerial displays in my neighborhood alone. People don’t call the police any more because they know the police won’t do anything about it.
Of those 16 complaints, Kuna police issued zero citations — again, for at least the past three years running. Violating this state law is a misdemeanor, so it’s not like Kuna police don’t have the authority to write tickets.
If our police officers feel that the Fireworks Act of 1997 is not important enough to enforce, then please lobby one of our state legislators and get the law repealed. If there’s no need for the law and it’s not really protecting anyone, then by all means, prove it and get this silly law off our books and out of our great state of Idaho

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Big, big news for the Kuna Melba News

This morning, we received some very big and exciting news concerning the Kuna Melba News. We found out today that we won six awards from the 2009 National Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest, including a first place for best feature story. This comes just a couple of months after we won seven awards from the Idaho Press Club, which is a statewide organization. To know that we won awards on a national level, as well, is extremely gratifying. We'll have details in next week's issue and we'll post them on our web site too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Let your voice be heard on the Kuna city budget

If anyone tells you that they predicted the budget woes that the city of Kuna went through the past year, ask that person how many budget hearings they went to last year. In fact, if anyone tells you they have all the answers to any of the city’s problems, ask them what they did about it — really did about it. Sitting around the coffee shop expounding on their wisdom doesn’t count.
As I’ve written before, democracy doesn’t reside at the end of the bar bellyaching about some stupid decision the city made. Democracy resides in the place where those decisions get made.
Well, here’s your chance. The city of Kuna will be going into a series of budget hearings over the next few weeks to hammer out the 2009-10 budget, which begins in October. You don’t have to go to all of the hearings. Maybe just pick one or two.
Check out the full schedule in this week's Kuna Melba News. If you can't make it to the hearings but still want to be heard, send me a letter to the editor. Our city officials will see it and take it into consideration.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The world would be a better place if everyone just read their local newspaper

The world would be a better place if everyone read their local newspaper. I firmly believe this. I suppose I’d be in the wrong business if I didn’t believe in it passionately. There are so many things in your local newspaper that you need to know. Someone called us up last month, asking if there had been an election in the city of Kuna. We informed him that there was a Kuna school district election on a two-year, $1.1 million per year supplemental levy to make up for a projected shortfall in funding from the state. The gentleman who called said he thought the district was trying to keep the election a secret so that no one would know about it. We had to point out that it had been in the Kuna Melba News nearly a dozen times and was on the front page as the lead story four times before the election. To the gentleman’s great credit, he signed up for a subscription so he could be more informed.
What I ask of you, our loyal readers, is to help us spread the word. Tell your neighbors about the Kuna Melba News, tell your friends. Let them know all of the important stories that they need to read in the newspaper. When they say they knew nothing about the supplemental levy or the upcoming City Council election, tell them they should subscribe to the Kuna Melba News.
You’ll be helping to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

City of Kuna grants Cowgirls liquor license

Before a standing-room-only crowd, Kuna City Council members Tuesday night approved the city alcohol beverage license for Cowgirls, bringing an end to the popular bar’s weekend prohibition of liquor sales.
After nearly two hours of discussion, City Council members Lisa Bachman and Rich Cardoza voted in favor of approving the license, while council president Jeff Lang voted against it. With council member Trina Stroebel recusing because of a professional relationship with Cowgirls, the motion passed, spurring thunderous applause from the 70 to 80 people in attendance.
The entity drawing the most consternation Tuesday night turned out to the state Alcohol Beverage Control, which city officials complained proved to be uncooperative, unresponsive and disorganized in their handling of the Cowgirls license.
“I am flabbergasted by the lack of coordination that ABC has had with us,” Cardoza complained. “We are trying to make a decision on a local business that brings people into this city, the brings money into this city, that employs people in this city, and we have this lackadaisical attitude from ABC. … It’s difficult to sit up here and make a decision and judge someone based on hearsay.”
In the end, Bachman and Cardoza seemed to base their decision on the state liquor license. In essence, as goes the state liquor license, so goes the city liquor license.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Kuna Melba News wins seven awards at Idaho Press Club awards ceremony

The Kuna Melba News won seven awards tonight at the annual Idaho Press Club awards ceremony, including three first place winners, two second places, a third place and an honorable mention.
Here are the winners:
1st: Best series for "Will Best Bath smell?" a three-part series on the potential impact of Best Bath in Kuna.
1st: Best sports feature for "Thousands donate toward Kuna's first wheelchair racer," a story about Matt LaManna, who has cerebral palsy and received a racing wheelchair through donations from the community.
1st: Best religion feature for "Grieving and healing at Kuna First Baptist Church," a story about the passing of Julie Piper, the simultaneous building of the new Kuna Baptist Church and the journey of the Rev. Scott Piper, who is now raising their seven girls with the help of the community.
2nd: Web site general excellence for
2nd: Business reporting for "Pazzles gets shot on national stage," for a story about Kuna's Pazzles' appearance on the Home Shopping Network.
3rd: Watchdog/investigative for "What is the tax impact of a big-box store?" which uncovered that the city of Kuna likely would reap only about $15,000 in added tax revenue from a big-box store.
Honorable mention: Business reporting for "Indian Creek named Winery of the Year," for a story about the history of Kuna's Indian Creek Winery and how the business is now being passed on to the second generation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great deals at the Kuna Library book sale

I always seem to find a good deal at the Friends of the Kuna Library Book Sale. Nicola, Luke, Robert and I went last night to the Friends preview night, and I picked up a couple of journalism-related books, including Citizen Hearst and Walter Cronkite's memoirs, along with a Thomas Pynchon novel and a David Guterson novel. Nicola got The Stepford Wives, and the boys took home what seemed like a truckful of books. Total cost for a box of books: $8.50. You can't beat it. It's continuing through Saturday. Check the Kuna Melba News for times.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kuna Easter Egg Hunt bigger and better than ever

This morning's Kuna Easter Egg Hunt was another huge success, apparently even bigger than last year's. And despite the down economy and the $2,000 donation from the city cut out of the budget, there were still thousands of eggs, gift bags, prizes and four brand new BSU bicycles that went to four lucky winners, one in each age division. Congrats to Sheri Russell for yet again pulling off one great community event.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Here's the problem with politicians

I just got a press release "guest opinion" from U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson. He's talking about procuring federal earmarks for Idaho, including money for the Idaho National Laboratory, a highway in Custer County, etc.
With great moral authority, he announces these projects and states he doesn't want to hide them away from the public, rather let the public see what he's fighting for and decide for themselves whether this is bad federal spending or a great way to help Idaho.
He concludes: “In the end, I can either seek these projects for Idaho or allow the funding to go to some other state. I would rather see that funding end up in Idaho – but I would prefer it be directed to projects that merit taxpayer investment.”
This is the problem with politicians in Washington, and the very reason we can't quit our addiction to earmarks. Of course, no one in Idaho is going to say, "Oh, Rep. Simpson, please don't request this funding, let money go to Massachusetts or Wyoming."
Problem is, a bunch of politicians from Wyoming and Massachusetts and every other state are preparing their own press releases and "guest opinions" rallying their troops for support. "Oh, Rep. (fill in politician's name here), please don't let our federal dollars go to Idaho for a highway in Custer County, send that money to (your state or congressional district goes here)."
Rep. Simpson: Please do what's right for the country and stop this wasteful spending altogether. Stop it in Idaho, stop it in Massachusetts, stop it in Wyoming. Just stop it. Let us keep all that money and maybe we'd actually be able to fund some of these projects ourselves — and at a much lower cost.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Best line of the night at Tuesday's Kuna school board meeting

Kuna schools superintendent Jay Hummel perhaps is not best known for his sense of humor, but he sure had the best line of the night at Tuesday's school board meeting. The school district is trying to come up with a name for the new alternative school, scheduled to open this fall. One of the front-runners is Two Roads Academy, or something to that effect, referencing the famous Robert Frost poem. A concern was raised, however, that another school was named Two Roads already. Hummel reported to the school board, though, that that school had closed. "They took the third road, I guess."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Kuna Auction a success despite fewer donations, bids

The annual auction benefiting the Kuna Natural Disaster Relief Fund went on Saturday as planned.
Donations were down, bids were down, the money raised was down, but the camaraderie and community spirit were way up in the Old Fourth Street Gym Saturday.
Early estimates put donations at about $16,000, far down from years past, but still a very good showing in a down economy and a great showing for an event that almost wasn't this year.
"I'm pleasantly surprised, very pleasantly surprised," auction chairwoman Sheri Russell said after the last of the items was auctioned off and she could breathe a sigh of relief.
Items auctioned included tools from Kuna Lumber and Kuna True Value, a bookcase hand made by Ron Cantrell, Christmas dishes, wine gift baskets, cookbooks, rope art, a Schwinn Sting Ray chopper bike and a 22 rifle donated by Zeke Corder.
A Remington model 710 Bushnell 3-9 Powerscope 270 Winchester (brand new with box) donated by Doug Croft of Kuna Dental raised around $1,500, thanks to Carl Nicholson, who bought it twice and let it get sold again.
Other items included Chuck Monger’s handcrafted elk and deer horn jewelry, a quilt made and donated by Kuna’s Fourth Ward (above), which is draped on a handmade wooden quilt stand by Pat Reed, blankets, afghans, original art by Ben Rice and Jack Kindall, 8-foot posts, a family night gift basket donated by the Kuna Melba News — everything including the kitchen sink (donated by Integrity Plumbing) which includes garbage disposal and installation.
Cash prizes were also awarded through raffle tickets, and the Kuna seniors were on hand selling tasty treats, pies and pastries.
Overall, a great day in Kuna.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Open letter to the Ada County Commissioners

To the Board of Ada County Commissioners,
According to a press release from Ada County: "In an effort to help offset the elimination of employee merit increases, the Board of Commissioners has agreed to cover the cost of employee health insurance premium increases, which in previous years, might have been passed on to employees. Additionally, the county will give employees a “health insurance premium holiday” resulting in no payroll deduction for health insurance premiums during the month of December – a time when most employees could use a little extra cash in their paychecks."
As a small business owner in Ada County, I am against these moves and moves such as this in general. I would like to see the county act more like a business. You don't see many private sector employees offering health insurance premium holidays or covering the costs of health insurance increases. Many "regular" employees in the private sector are seeing cuts to their health benefits and are seeing no merit pay raises, if they even still have a job. Private sector employees shouldn't then be expected to bear a tax burden to help fund added health benefits for county employees. Most taxpayers in Ada County would like to see a little extra cash in their bank accounts in December rather than seeing it go to the county to pay for a health insurance premium holiday for county employees. We should all share the burden and sacrifices of the current economic downturn.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kuna mayor says he'll give a state of the city address

At the last City Council meeting, council member Trina Stroebel asked Kuna Mayor Scott Dowdy if he was going to give a state of the city address, just like other area mayors. Dowdy gave a state of the city address back when he was interim mayor and he was running for mayor, but he hasn't given one since. Reluctantly, Dowdy said he would do a state of the city address. Council president Jeff Lang encouraged him to give one, especially considering all of the city budget cuts and the news about the LID. City attorney Randy Grove had the best line of the night: "Your theme for it could be 'At least we're not California.'" Details not hammered down yet, but we'll let you know in the Kuna Melba News when we find out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

City of Kuna gets in line for federal stimulus money

The city of Kuna is doing what it can to save its place in line for federal stimulus money.
President Obama, along with mostly congressional Democrats, is proposing anywhere from $800 billion to $900 billion in federal money to projects that, in theory, would jumpstart the economy by creating jobs for the millions of people who have lost their jobs in recent months due to the tumbling economy.
Much of the talk had centered around infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and sewer and water projects.
Kuna has put together a list of projects that city officials feel could benefit from federal support. Included in that list are the new wastewater treatment plant, an overpass over Indian Creek along Meridian Road and a new city hall.
In addition, the city is trying to work with the Ada County Highway District to come up with some local road projects, such as a traffic light at Columbia and Meridian roads, sidewalks on Linder and Fourth streets and a widening of Deer Flat Road from Meridian Road to Ten Mile Road. All of these projects have been in the pipeline for years. Craig Quintana of ACHD tells me that ACHD is submitting a list of projects to the Idaho Transportation Department, including half-a-million dollars for repair of dangerous sidewalks, including some in Kuna. ACHD also is requesting $4 million for road repairs all over the county. Another $40 million in ready-to-go projects are in the wings, including a bridge over the Benton Lateral along King Road east of Black Cat Road, Quintana said.
We'll keep you posted.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Melba Community Auction going well

We just got back from the 60th annual Melba Community Auction, where things were moving right along nicely. Organizers tell me the donations were down quite a bit from last year, but folks were still bidding well this year. One of the items that Nicola and I bought at the auction was a homemade huckleberry pie made by Madge Wylie. The huckleberries were hand-picked by her son up at Priest Lake. I'm not ashamed to admit that as soon as we got home, we dug in (at right). Delicious. Great job, Madge. No indigestion, no need for the antacid. We had to leave the auction a little early, so we missed how the classic car and pickup truck went, but the handmade Old World-style hand-carved wooden cane by Eugene Lee went for $250 to Norm and Kathy Alder. I bid unsuccessfully on a signed softball from the state champions. That eventually went for $100. Nicola and I finally successfully bid on a beautiful quilt. This one was handmade and donated by Michelle Van Schoiack and machine quilted by Homestead Quilts. We've bid on quilts many times before, including last year's Kuna History quilt by Cheryl Stubbs, but we've never come out on top. So we're pretty happy we finally took one home. Lute Greenfield's handmade metal sculpture of a moose went for $255, and a handmade birdhouse went for $250. We'll keep you updated on how the auction did and what it means to the Kuna Auction, in next week's Kuna Melba News.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

City of Kuna looking for two planning commissioners now

The city of Kuna is now looking for two new Planning and Zoning Commission members, after chairman Justin Touchstone informed the city he’s leaving the commission. Former commission member Holly Kerfoot moved to Fruitland in the fall, leaving her post open for the past couple of months. Touchstone, who has been the commission’s chairman since July, announced he is leaving the commission after serving for three years. Touchstone said he will stick around for a while until a replacement is found.
That leaves Dave Case, Stephanie Wierschem and Carl Trautman on the commission. Case has been on the commission since February 2007. Wierschem has been on the commission since March 2007. Trautman just joined the commission in July.
I know Dave Case personally, and I like him and I think he does a good job on the commission. However, Dave also serves on the school board, which meets once a month at the same time as the Planning and Zoning Commission, which creates a time conflict for Dave and causes him to miss some commission meetings.
So I hope the city finds a couple of new commission members quickly. City planning director Steve Hasson told me that just last week he received inquiries from two good candidates, which is encouraging. It’s been difficult finding folks who fulfill the requirements. Planning and Zoning Commission members must be residents of the city of Kuna (not just the surrounding area) and have lived in Ada County for at least five years.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Remembering what a big deal a mention in your local paper is

We received an email the other day from a reader who had submitted a schools-related story and photos, which I ran a few weeks ago. She wrote, "They really enjoyed seeing themselves in the paper last time. I brought each of them a copy of the paper to school, and their desks were immediately surrounded by students. The mile-wide smiles they had on their faces lasted most of the day. One of the boys said "Geez, my mom sent a copy of the paper to EVERYBODY (dripping with exasperation) we know." I think often as I get older, I forget what a big deal something like a mention in the local paper is. So thanks for printing the story, it meant a lot."
I think a lot of people have forgotten what a big deal something like a mention in the local paper is. We still think the local paper is the best way to connect with your community. Keep sending us your submissions, and we'll keep printing them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kuna should beat a tactical retreat in its fight with Meridian

The city of Kuna has a tremendous opportunity right now in its seemingly endless fight over land with the city of Meridian.
Last month, Ada County Commissioners, once again treating Kuna like an ugly stepchild better relegated to the hinterlands of Canyon County (or maybe even Nevada), approved Meridian’s request to extend its area of city impact down to Lake Hazel Road, over the objections of Kuna.
Kuna city officials have made the case that Kuna is best prepared to provide services north of Lake Hazel Road to Amity Road, based largely on the city’s new $30 million wastewater treatment plant that’s under construction near the southeast corner of Lake Hazel and Ten Mile roads. A 2004 wastewater master plan commissioned by the city of Kuna specifically targets the area between Lake Hazel and Amity roads as a natural development area that would gravity-feed the new treatment plant.
At the county commissioners’ Dec. 17 public hearing, however, a line of Meridian city officials and area residents, one by one, testified that the city of Meridian was better prepared to provide services to the land north of Lake Hazel Road. Although I wasn’t at that meeting, city planning director Steve Hasson tells me that the comments about Kuna were unflattering and derisive. Hasson, Kuna Mayor Scott Dowdy and one affected resident were the only ones to testify on Kuna’s behalf. “It was just a good old-fashioned butt-whooping,” Hasson told me, obviously dejected.
But there is a compelling argument to draw the line at Lake Hazel Road right now. If Kuna were to beat a tactical retreat right now, Kuna could go to the city of Meridian holding out an olive branch, saying, “OK, let’s draw that line at Lake Hazel Road and be done with the fighting. Let’s get together and do some joint planning. Let’s get together without any more baggage, without any cloud hanging over us.”
And maybe the two cities and school districts could work on that ice rink I’ve been dreaming about.
It may be difficult to swallow your pride and admit defeat, but a retreat at this point has its benefits.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Now is the time to be aggressive, not timid

What do you do when you’re a small business in a recession?
Is the answer to cut back, hide and adopt a bunker mentality until the storm is over?
I don’t think so. When the storm is over and you come out of your bunker, you may find out that no one remembers who you are.
Of course, this is a good opportunity to cut out any unnecessary expenses and focus your spending so that your business is as efficient as it can possibly be.
But now is not the time to hide. If anything, in an environment of shrinking spending dollars, it’s even more important to get out there and fight for those dollars.
According to a McGraw-Hill Research study looking at 600 companies from 1980 to 1985, businesses that chose to maintain or raise their level of advertising expenditures during the 1981 and 1982 recession had significantly higher sales after the economy recovered. Companies that advertised aggressively during the recession had sales 256 percent higher than those that did not continue to advertise.
Yeah, yeah, we’re just saying that because advertising is our business. But here’s a shocker: We actually believe it. Of course, we wouldn’t have gotten into the business if we didn’t believe in it. Anyone who’s talked to us about the newspaper business and the value of advertising in your local hometown newspaper knows how passionately we believe in it. But we’re not just talking the talk. We’re walking the walk. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.
Starting today, the Kuna Melba News will have billboards along Meridian Road, next to City Hall and at Fairview and Cloverdale roads. In addition, we're launching a radio ad campaign on Mix 106, and this month, we're mailing copies of the Kuna Melba News to every household in the Kuna school district in an effort to boost our circulation. In conjunction with that, we're giving our advertisers deep discounts for the entire month, helping them reach out to every household in Kuna for a very low price. Then in March, we're launching the Kuna Melba News Roundup, a free newspaper that will go to every household in the Kuna and Melba zip codes.
We're being aggressive now because after the storm is over, we're looking forward to sunny skies.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sadly, I think that the City of Kuna should cut its donations

I suspect that Tuesday night’s City Council meeting will contain a lively debate over $36,000 of donations that the city had included in its 2008-09 budget. The donations are now in jeopardy as the city is seeking to close a nearly half-million-dollar budget shortfall. Included in the donations are:
• $10,000 for the Boys and Girls Club.
• $2,000 for the Easter Egg Hunt.
• $10,000 for Kuna Days fireworks.
• $5,000 for the Kuna Chamber of Commerce.
• $9,000 for The Zone after-school program at Kuna Life Church.
The city is poring over every detail of the city budget, cutting police services, heating and electric bills for the senior center, cutting pay for city employees and reducing the work week by one hour every week. The city has managed about $260,000 of cuts, but they still have about $230,000 to go to balance the budget. The possibility looms of laying off a city employee or two.
In light of all that, I think the city should kill all of the donations for this year. Kuna Days will have to explore the possibility of a scaled down fireworks show, the chamber will have to pore over its own budget to determine where it can cut, the Easter Egg Hunt will have to rely on business donations and perhaps scale back on the prizes awarded, and the Boys and Girls Club is going to have to work harder in its $3.5 million fundraising capital campaign. Pastor Stan Johnson of Kuna Life Church was at Tuesday night’s meeting, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him about the $9,000 donation to The Zone, so I don’t know how vital that donation is to The Zone. I suppose the city could consider maintaining that portion or reducing it slightly.
Even with these donations cut, the city still has no hope of closing the budget gap. It’s vital that the city cut everything that is not necessary to running city government at this point. I hope City Council members see the wisdom in cutting back now so that cuts are not more drastic in the future. The economy will rebound, the funding will return, the growth will come back. In the meantime, though, we all need to scale back.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Kuna Melba News — finally — adds a history column

This week, the Kuna Melba News is very excited to present yet another new feature: Looking Back, a new history column that looks back into Kuna and Melba’s history.
Over the past two years, we’ve been working very hard to respond to reader suggestions for new features: community calendar, weather, puzzles, recipe of the week. We’ve also added columns, high school sports coverage, a News of Neighbors page, a library page. We’ve also listened to reader suggestions about the police blotter. As you may have noticed, the last couple of weeks, we’ve been taking out and digesting the routine calls, such as traffic stops, security checks and property checks. It has shortened the blotter considerably, making it easier to read and allowing for more space for explanations of specific incidents.
A history column is yet another step in making us a better newspaper. Making the history column happen was perhaps more difficult than I anticipated. The only complete record, that I know of, of the Kuna Melba News and its predecessors, the Kuna Enterprise and Kuna Herald, are on rolls and rolls of microfilm at the Idaho State Historical Society on Old Penitentiary Road in Boise. What we’ve done is ordered the roll of microfilm of the Kuna Herald from 1959 — 50 years ago — and had it delivered through the Kuna Library to Kuna. With the help of the Kuna Melba News’ customer service representative Tami McCraw, we’ve been looking through the microfilm at the Kuna Stake Center of the LDS Church on West Kuna Road.
So our focus right now is on the stories and issues affecting Kuna and Melba 50 years ago. Fortunately, the Kuna Herald in 1959 also ran a “Looking Back” column that looked back at stories from 1949, 1939, 1929 and 1919, so we’ve picked those up, as well to look back 60, 70, 80 and 90 years ago.
I hope you enjoy the new feature. Let me know what you think.

Faced with potential half-million-dollar budget shortfall, Kuna makes emergency cuts

The city of Kuna is making budget cuts in anticipation of a projected half-million-dollar shortfall in the current city budget.
Without the cuts, the city faces the possibility of ending the year with only $65,000 in cash reserves.
“It’s clear that we need to take corrective action,” Kuna Mayor Scott Dowdy said Tuesday night. “The sooner we make changes, the sooner we’ll realize savings.”
City Council members Tuesday night authorized immediate cuts, including freezing the $92,000 contingency fund, canceling hiring a grant writer for $15,000, canceling a $15,000 impact fee study and putting a hold on all travel, training, uniforms and equipment upgrades.
Still up for consideration is killing $36,000 in donations that were included in the 2008-09 budget, which was approved in September. Further cuts could include a 6 percent reduction in the city’s $1.35 million contract with the sheriff’s office for police services, killing the $49,500 contract with the Humane Society for animal control and even charging for streetlights, a move that could raise $65,000. Beyond that, the city is even considering layoffs.
City Council members have called a special meeting for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 13, at City Hall, 763 W. Avalon St., to consider future steps.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What e-mails are you sending out, Commissioner Rule?

Don’t you want to know what Canyon County Commissioner Steve Rule is sending out through his e-mail account that taxpayers provide him?
Apparently, Rule doesn’t want you to know.
Last month, after it came to light the Rule had sent out a joke e-mail about Michelle Obama, comparing her to a black widow spider, I got curious about what other e-mails Commissioner Rule was sending out.
As you might recall, and as you can read in this blog, I took Rule to task, not for the apparent racism of the e-mail, but for wasting taxpayer dollars on sophomoric joke chain e-mails. It got me to thinking that maybe this wasn’t the only joke email that Rule was sending out on the taxpayer dime.
So I filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act and Idaho Public Records law asking for a copy of all of Steve Rule’s sent e-mails for the months of October and November.
According to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, “To date, E-mail (electronic mail) has not been separately addressed by the legislature. E-mail is considered a public record subject to the same laws as any other public record.”
As you may or may not know, public agencies have three days to respond to a public records request. Two days after my request was referred to the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, on Dec. 17, I received a letter from Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Samuel B. Laugheed seeking an extension of the deadline on my request. Why, I don’t know.
On Dec. 29, I received another letter from Mr. Laugheed, denying my request for the information.
“I understand from Commissioner Rule that he does not retain sent email,” Laugheed’s letter states. “I also consulted with the County IT Department and understand that Commissioner Rule’s sent emails are not archived by them.”
Fair enough, I guess, although Mr. Laugheed’s phrasing, “I understand from Commissioner Rule,” seemed a little weak to me. Plus, it seemed odd that no one has sent emails from two months ago? My Entourage keeps sent emails as long as I want, and hotmail keeps sent e-mails from at least a year ago. Granted, aol keeps only a month’s worth of e-mail, so I guess it’s conceivable that Steve Rule’s sent emails from a couple of months ago are now disappeared and unobtainable.
So I figured sent e-mails would be kept around for a month anyway. So I filed another request on Dec. 29, asking for Commissioner Rule’s sent emails for the month of December. Quickly, I received a response from Mr. Laugheed on Dec. 31: “As previously stated in our December 29, 2008, letter responding to your request of December 15, 2008, I understand from Commissioner Rule that he does not retain sent email.”
So I’m not quite sure Mr. Laugheed did anything to fulfill my second request. I have a call into him, hoping to hear back soon.
Otherwise, it sounds like Commissioner Rule is actually actively going into his sent email folder and deleting his sent emails.
So my question is, “What do you have to hide, Commissioner Rule?”
What do you think? Don't you want to know what emails he's sending out on the taxpayer dime?