Adams sticks to his guns

Councilman opposes federal funds for officers, Harbor Center lease

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COEUR d'ALENE - 'Dr. No' is at it again.

City Councilman Steve Adams doesn't want to hire two more police officers despite the department's claim it's understaffed.

Nor does the second-year councilman support the city extending its lease with the University of Idaho to allow the school to operate at the Harbor Center inside the education corridor.

He says government doesn't have a role in education, which is why he's voting against the lease extension. And as for the additional officers, he opposes paying for them with the help of a federal grant, which is what the police department is proposing.

"I'm not opposed to having additional officers or increased public safety, but I am opposed to the funding method, as I have been in the past," said Adams, nicknamed by some Dr. No for frequently voting no, including against any grant tied to federal money, on Monday.

That's exactly what the police department is proposing, however.

It wants to hire two officers through the federal COPS Hiring Recovery Act, a grant that would pay up to 75 percent of the officers' salaries for three years. The city would have to absorb the costs in the fourth year.

Police Chief Wayne Longo said Monday the department has been understaffed since 2007-08. It has maintained around 70 officers since 2009, after it lost two positions due to the recession. Since 2009, calls for service have increased by 25 percent, according to police department data it provided the city.

At a ratio of one officer per 1,000 people, below recommended standards, each officer averaged 1,321 calls for service in 2012.

"The patrol division is stressed," Longo said Monday. "There's really no excuse-me room."

Longo pitched the idea of bringing on the extra officers Monday to the General Services Committee, a subcommittee that recommends items to the City Council.

Adams balked at funding the officers with Department of Justice funds. He has said several times that the federal government is broke and the city shouldn't have anything to do with federal dollars. He favored putting more officers on the street, he said, but paying for them in house.

"It's not free money, it comes with strings attached, and is that sustainable?" he said. "The police department is the largest budget in the city, I think we can probably come up with $150 grand."

That's what it costs per year for the two positions. Officials said they're familiar with Adams opposition of federal money.

"Steve's always been very upfront with that," Longo said. "I respect his position."

The police budget is roughly $9.5 million. Twin Falls is nearly Coeur d'Alene's population of 44,137. It has 100.5 FTEs in its police department, budgeted at $8.2 million.

"We do not like to cut off any potential revenue streams," said Troy Tymesen, finance director. "Especially when it comes to public safety - the core reason we were put into existence."

Adams is the only councilman with a firm stance against federal money. So when the officer additions go before the City Council May 21, it will likely pass.

Adams, meanwhile campaigned two years ago on a platform that City Hall could have 100 too many jobs, which he would look to trim.

In 2008, the city had 363.23 full-time equivalent positions. In 2013, it has 348.53 FTEs budgeted.

Adams said Monday 100 jobs too many may have been too bold a proclamation, but there's no way of knowing without forming a committee to look into it, which is "just not something that's going to happen this year."

"That might have been a high estimation," Adams said of the 100 figure, but added about the drop in city employee numbers in recent years: "It's gone down. We're trending in the right direction."

As for education, he said the city should stay out, or get paid fairly.

Adams said he's voting against extending the Harbor Center lease because it doesn't give the city fair market compensation, and he questions whether the government should be involved in education anyway.

The lease rents the space to the higher education institute for $10 a year, and has since 2001.

"I think we just disagree," said Charles Buck, U of I associate vice president in Coeur d'Alene.

He said the land grant university, as established by Congress, has a history of partnering with Coeur d'Alene to offer higher education and positively impact the community.

"Government typically does support education in a robust way and we certainly hope that would continue," he said.

City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said the benefits of having the university in the education corridor outweigh any loss of lease dollars.

"I think there is no question that the university's presence at Harbor Center provides value, not just to the city as an organization but to the community, and to North Idaho College," she wrote in an email.

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