Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Expect a couple of fee increases in Kuna this year

Looks like Kuna residents can expect a couple of small rate increases in the coming year in sewer and pressurized irrigation bills. Kuna city engineer Gordon Law presented his budgets to City Council Monday night and hinted that those two funds likely would need upward fee adjustments of “1 to 3 percent.”
The monthly cost for sewer services is $24.65, last raised in 2008 for the 2008-09 budget. At the time, Law had informed council members that sewer revenues were about 22 percent below expenses, necessitating a fee increase.
That was even before the city brought online the new north wastewater treatment plant last year. Law decided to forgo a sewer fee increase in the current year’s budget, when the city brought the new plant online.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kuna school district to charge $100 per sport in "pay-to-play" plan

It will be more expensive to be a letterman at Kuna starting next school year.
In order to offset budget cuts from the state, the Kuna school district has instituted a $100 “pay-to-play” fee per sport at the high school and a $30 fee at the middle school.
That means that a student participating in three sports, such as football, basketball and baseball, or volleyball, basketball and softball, will have to pay $300 for the school year.
The move is expected to generate about $125,000 per year, which ostensibly would go toward transportation costs. The revenue still would cover only about a quarter of the costs of providing athletic programs.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kuna Melba News wins three national awards

The Kuna Melba News has won three awards in the National Newspaper Association’s 2010 Better Newspaper Contest, including first place in the prestigious Community Service Award category.
The Kuna Melba News won:
• 3rd place for Best Feature Story, Non-daily Division, circulation less than 2,700
• 1st place for Best Serious Column, Non-daily Division, circulation less than 2,700
• 1st place for Community Service Award, Non-daily Division, circulation less than 6,000.
NNA Contest Chairman Jeff Farren, publisher of the Kendall County Record in Yorkville, IL, congratulated the Kuna Melba News in an award notification e-mail and said “[The] Kuna Melba News has been judged by its peers among other entrants and selected to join the roll of this year’s award-winning newspapers in these national contests. Winners reflect the high quality of publications represented by the association.”
There were 1,990 entries in this year’s Better Newspaper Contest and 359 entries in the Better Newspaper Advertising Contest for a total of 2,349 entries. A total of 634 awards were won by 143 member newspapers in 37 states.
California had the most combined BNC/BNAC wins with 67, followed by Texas with 66 and Wyoming with 59.
Here’s what the judges had to say about the Kuna Melba News entries:
• 3rd Place, Best Feature Story, Non-daily Division, circulation less than 2,700, “Iraqi family now calls Kuna home” (Aug. 26, 2009): “Heart-warming story that is written so very smoothly. Pleasure to read.”
This was a story about an Iraqi family who have children with a condition that causes dwarfism. A Kuna man called to serve in Iraq helped bring the family to Kuna.
• 1st Place, Best Serious Column, Non-daily Division, circulation less than 2,700, “Let's not forget open government,” (Aug. 12, 2009): “This column does a great job of using a personal example to explain the important role of newspapers as watchdogs of government. Well-written.”
This column was about a Kuna City Council meeting at which council members began to discuss an item that was not properly noted on the agenda as a public hearing and the Kuna Melba News spoke up to ensure the council did not make a decision on the matter.
• 1st Place, Community Service Award, Non-daily Division, circulation less than 6,000, “Power line issue,” (April 1, May 20, June 17, June 22, Nov. 18, 2009): “Among all the good entries in this category, the Kuna Melba News stands out because of their aggressive reporting resulting in quantifiable action: the location of a power line got changed.”
This was a series of articles and an editorial written by the Kuna Melba News shedding light on a proposal by Idaho Power to place a massive power line through parts of Kuna.
This year’s awards for the Kuna Melba News follows up last year’s showing of six awards in the 2009 NNA contest.
“What is most satisfying to me is knowing that we are providing our subscribers and readers with some of the best news stories in the country,” said Kuna Melba News editor Scott McIntosh. “Our readers can rest assured that we are delivering a high-quality newspaper, as judged by our peers on a national level.”
Judging was performed primarily by active community newspaper editors and publishers and included retired university journalism professors and retired or former newspaper men and women.
Established in 1885, the National Newspaper Association is the voice of America’s community newspapers and the largest newspaper association in the country. The nation’s community papers inform, educate and entertain nearly 150 million readers every week.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More on downtown redevelopment

Allow me to be serious a moment about downtown redevelopment. It’s apparent that some people still don’t get it, and I will allow myself to turn blue in the face saying the same things over and over again until people understand the issue at hand.
First of all, let’s get this clear: A city’s downtown is its identity. It holds the city’s history and is often the only unique thing about its city that differentiates itself from any other town. If a city were to build row after row of fast food joints, chain restaurants and drugstores, you would not be able to tell whether you were living in, say, Meridian or Kuna.
Why is that important? Because we increasingly live in a world of detachment, decreasing civic engagement in which people do not care what town they live in, do not get involved in that town’s civic life, don’t know how much they pay in taxes and are not aware of — let alone participate in — their local organizations, such as Lions, Grange, Kiwanis, etc., that make their community better.
Does a vibrant downtown solve all those problems? No, but it helps. I absolutely believe that. A city that has a common gathering place where neighbors come together and walk among each other and say hello and commit commerce create a greater sense of cohesion and community. No doubt about it. A better downtown equals a better community. Forget nostalgia for a moment. This is a practical argument about making this community better.
Next, let’s get to this issue of improving downtown, as some people will try to argue that the property owners should make the improvements. Many point to the old argument that downtown Kuna is a mess to begin with, with dirty, vomit-encrusted sidewalks and falling-apart, unpainted facades. So this just shows that the downtown businesses aren’t responsible to begin with, so we shouldn’t help them. While some of the charges are definitely true, it doesn’t hold for everyone. See Jennifer Schmeckpepper and her business Consign & Design. Look at Harry Knox and what he’s done with the Edward Jones building. Witness Behind the Chair Salon. So shall we hold them accountable for the dereliction of their neighbors? Further, how is that an argument that we should continue to do nothing for our downtown? It’s already ugly, so we should continue to let it get worse? That doesn’t make sense to me. That said, I firmly believe that the city should hold accountable businesses that don’t take care of their environment, requiring businesses to clean the sidewalks, for example, in front of their establishments.
Next, again we have to dispel this foolish and oft-repeated myth that there’s nothing but a bunch of bars downtown. Perhaps that’s the perception of people who have never been downtown, but it’s not true. There are many, many other businesses working hard to eke out a living downtown. But the vast majority of the 15,000 people who live here erroneously believe that there’s nothing but bars, so they stay as far away as possible.
Next, let me detail some of the improvements I’m talking about and tell you why the city must get involved. I do not expect downtown building owner Lucio Prado to alter the parking pattern in front of El Gallo Giro. I do not expect Harry Knox to narrow Main Street to two lanes and double the width of the sidewalks in front of his building so that we may accommodate sidewalk seating for restaurants and cafes. I do not expect Sheri Russell to put up new streetlights along Main Street. I do not expect Larry and Arlene O’Leary to dig up and relocate trees in the public right-of-way. I do not expect Mike Fisher to go over to the Old 4th Street Gym and tear out the school district’s chain-link fence that is ever-so-nicely accented with barbed wire (although I’d like him to) and put up a village green.
Yes, I expect downtown business owners to pull up weeds, clean windows, power wash sidewalks, and paint and maintain facades. But there are some things that need to be done that individual business owners cannot and should not do. It is necessary for the city to make these improvements. Whatever form it takes, a business improvement district, a local improvement district, an urban renewal agency, I really don’t care. Just something that will get it done.
Next, to be successful and popular, downtown is experiential. Going downtown is an experience. It’s where you window-shop. It’s where you stroll, run into friends, chit-chat as you pass by on the sidewalk. It’s where you hang out and people-watch. Bars, restaurants, cafes, antique shops, real estate offices are all part of the equation.
Next, in order to convince free-market, entrepreneurial private investors to make an investment in downtown, as some of you suggest, the investor needs to know that he or she will get support and assistance from the city in which the investment is made. Yes, that includes making sure the city holds neighboring businesses responsible for maintaining their property. But it also means that the investor needs to be assured that the city itself will make the investment in necessary public improvements that will assure success for the individual investor over the course of the next 20 years.
Otherwise, it’s easier to just buy something new that has plenty of parking and lighting and healthy landscape elsewhere. And so, that’s what happens.
A city official once posited to me, somewhat in jest, whether the city should pay to fix sidewalks downtown just so some drunk wouldn’t fall down and crack his head open.
Is that what this is all about? We don’t like the bars downtown? Well, I’ve got news for everyone. By not fixing downtown, all you’re going to get are bars. And here’s a little secret that I’ll give away for free: If you want to get rid of the bars downtown, the way you do it is by making downtown so incredibly nice and attractive, some developer comes along and buys out the bar and puts in a nice restaurant or some other commercial venture.
Cities all over the country are going back to their downtowns to figure how to make them better and to figure out why they let them get to be such a mess to begin with. One need not look any farther than Nampa and Meridian to see cities now going back to fix what they broke.
Finally, we can bicker and argue the fine points all we want and we can complain and we can point fingers for the next 20 years. Fine, that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years, and look where it’s gotten us. We’ll get what we deserve as a community, good or bad. I am suggesting we knock it off and get moving. Otherwise, I’m promising you, we will be here 20 years from now wondering, how did they let their downtown get to be that way? You need only look in Kuna Melba News to find out.
One more point: I’m still waiting for someone else to come up with another solution. Like I said, we can point fingers and complain about the other side all we want, but the only thing we’ll get in the end is what we’ve already got. It’s our choice. It’s up to us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dreams of a downtown shattered

A couple of weeks ago I was waxing nostalgic about my first newspaper job at The Current-Argus in Carlsbad, N.M., some 16 years ago. Maybe that jogged my memory or maybe it’s the hot weather we’ve been having, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that time in my life.
The address for The Current-Argus was on South Main Street. Main Street. Just the words conjured all sorts of romantic notions of what my life would be like. I’d be working in a building right on Carlsbad’s Main Street. I had visions of a bustling little downtown of wide sidewalks and brick buildings, the courthouse and police station and City Hall all within walking distance of each other. Main Street. I would rush out the doors of my newspaper office building over to the courthouse for a verdict or over to City Hall for the next council meeting, rushing past people I knew, waving along the way, pointing to my watch to indicate in a hurried fashion that I couldn’t stop to chat this time. Main Street.
It took me four days’ driving from New Jersey before I pulled into Carlsbad on a sweltering summer afternoon. Highway 285 comes up on Carlsbad from the southeast on the south side of town. After checking into a motel for the night, I set out to explore my new town.
Mind you, this was all before the time of Google maps and street view. Heck, it was even before the time of the Internet, if you can believe such a time existed.
I drove into Carlsbad proper on Canal Street. I passed motel after motel, fast-food place after fast-food place, car lots, gas stations and convenience stores along with all of their accompanying plastic signs, parking lots and withering landscaping. I drove on, my hopeful eyes set on the horizon waiting for my idyllic downtown. I kept driving a couple of miles until I came to a sharp turn west. A-ha, I thought. Around the corner must be the oasis. Another two miles of strip malls and convenience stores and chain restaurants and I found myself on the edge of the desert again, leaving the city.
Wait, where was my downtown? Where was Main Street? Where were my brick buildings and bustling sidewalk traffic? Eventually, I found it. Abandoned, falling apart, vacant. Save for the beautiful historic courthouse, the downtown was dilapidated, neglected, empty. Main Street had become an industrial backage road populated by low-slung steel buildings and work yards. I was crestfallen.
Carlsbad had grown, to be sure. But it had grown into an ugly city of chain stores and restaurants, aesthetically displeasing with little to no character at all. Walking in Carlsbad was an aberration, a source of confused looks, as if the pedestrian were in some sort of distress or mental incapacity.
Is this what’s in store for Kuna? Is this what we will become? A few years ago, an urban renewal effort was nearly consummated but was quashed. Two years ago, when City Council members approved plans for a big-box store at Deer Flat and Meridian roads, there was talk about revitalizing downtown. Now again, next week, a group of community developers will offer their ideas about downtown.
Let’s get this done this time. Quit talking about it and just do it. I fear that City Council members, faced again with a tight budget, won’t budget any money for a grant writer or money for downtown renewal.
Meanwhile, locally owned businesses with character and identity close and chain stores open.
I predict that 20 years from now, with our 120,000 residents, our Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer and Walgreens and Subway, people will look around and say, “Why did they let their downtown fall to pieces like that?”