Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kuna town hall meetings are a good start

A big pat on the back to Kuna planning director Steve Hasson and city treasurer John Marsh. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, seriously.
John and Steve did an admirable job at last week’s town hall meeting to go over details of a proposed $5 million bond to buy a new city hall and adjacent 11 acres of land and build an indoor swimming pool. About 50 to 60 people showed up to ask questions, show support and register complaints — some angry complaints.
I think Steve and John did an excellent job of fielding questions and responding to complaints. They were able to answer some questions and acknowledge questions that are still unanswerable.
The problem, though, is that last week’s meeting was about six months too late. The city began the planning process for a new city hall back in April — with a couple of closed-door executive sessions. What they should have done first was start with public input and questions. Doing research and crunching numbers 12 days before a major election is just too late — and their analysis a dollar short.
In my book, there are still way too many questions unanswered. In addition, as evidenced from last week’s public outcry, the city didn’t receive enough input from the public.
One of the biggest arguments in favor of a new city hall at this time is that buying something in a recession is the best time to do it, when property values are way down.
It’s just like the woman with four children and one on the way said at Thursday’s town hall meeting: “The recession has been awesome for us.” She said they have been able to buy a house at a low price at a great interest rate.
Yep, buying when the market is down is very smart indeed.
Except the city still hasn’t proven that $1.08 million for an 8,000-square-foot building shell is a depressed value. Is that a good deal? I don’t know. The city doesn’t know. And despite what Steve said at last week’s town hall, the city still has not done an appraisal on the building. They haven’t even received a real estate opinion on the price. And as far as I can tell, the city didn’t even really negotiate the price. Could we get it for $950,000? Could we get it for $750,000? After all, it’s been vacant for two years now.
Now, the city did receive a real estate broker’s opinion on the $45,000 per acre on the 11 acres of land, and the opinion says to the effect that, yeah, that’s not a totally crazy price, maybe a little high, but not out of the realm of possibility. Again, not what you’d call a snatch-it-up-in-this-depressed-market type of a price. Could we get it for, say, $20,000 per acre?
So, in my mind, the biggest argument for buying now is kind of thrown out the window.

I have more thoughts and details in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

City of Kuna used taxpayer money on bond election brochure

The city of Kuna spent $2,097 of taxpayer money to mail a “2010 Bond Election Voter Information” brochure, including to houses outside city limits.
The use of taxpayer money to fund such materials has been frowned upon by Idaho’s highest court.
In 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled strongly against the Greater Boise Auditorium District, which was sued for using public money to advocate for the passage of a bond measure.
“The use of public funds to campaign in a contested election is not one of the powers expressly granted to the board of an auditorium district,” according to the ruling. “If such use is permissible, it must be within the implied powers of the board.”
On Oct. 5, Kuna City Council members, on a split vote, approved spending $2,079 to mail the brochure, moving the money from the contingency fund to the election fund. Council members Doug Hoiland and Jeff Lang voted in favor, and Lisa Bachman and Rich Cardoza voted against it. Mayor Scott Dowdy broke the tie by voting in favor of spending the money. The Kuna Melba News has filed a public records request seeking the total cost to produce, print and mail the brochure.

More details in this week's Kuna Melba News.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Attack from the government is actually pretty typical

Now more than ever, I am reminded of the importance of a strong independent press. It is not unusual (heck, it’s pretty darn common) for government officials and taxpayer-funded bureaucrats to attack the media for what they perceive to be biases and special interests.
In the current push to get voters to pass a city hall bond measure, the city of Kuna has shown itself to be no different from most government agencies that seek to perpetuate their own existence and feather their own nest. Sometimes, government agencies will even manipulate facts to dupe the taxpaying public. And when a newspaper dares to question them, the bureaucrats go on the attack.
In 16 years of newspapering, I am quite used to silly attacks from government officials and bureaucrats who don’t even want to be questioned about their decisions.
Following is the treachery and treason of which the Kuna Melba News stands accused:
• Requested that the city involve the public in planning for a new city hall.
• Asked that the city start with a city hall task force and site selection committee rather than behind-closed-doors executive sessions.
• Asked that the city of Kuna tell us how much we’ll have to pay to use an indoor pool. (“We have no idea what the fee will be,” city planning director Steve Hasson said last week.)
• Reported the real cost of the $5 million at over $9.2 million after interest payments. (It actually could go as high as $12.6 million if we get a 7.5 percent interest rate. The city is not reporting those numbers.)
• Asked that the city provide a real estate appraisal of the building for which the seller is asking $1.08 million.
• Reported that city property taxes would go up 25 to 30 percent.
I plead guilty to the above charges. Why? Because I am looking out for the taxpayer. Why? First and foremost, that is what a newspaper is supposed to do. We act as a watchdog, making sure we protect the people from a deceptive and unrestrained government.
I am reminded of a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, in his majority opinion allowing the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers: “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” Sound familiar?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eating fresh in Kuna, Idaho

Nicola and I are enjoying our lunches from the now-open Subway restaurant in Kuna, next to the Fiesta Guadalajara on Avalon Street, in front of Paul's Market. We both got footlong Italian combos. We certainly weren't the only customers today. There were customers already eating, a short line when we came in and a longer line when we left. We ran into school district employees and a city employee while there. Looks like Subway in Kuna is going to be a huge success. Welcome to Kuna.