Officials: Overlays will happen

If LIDs not approved, staff may be cut to pay for road projects

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COEUR d'ALENE - Whether East Side Highway District decides to pay with local improvement districts or not, the planned overlay projects in Coeur d'Alene and Harrison will definitely happen.

After two hours of public testimony on the matter at the district's Monday meeting, the commissioners explained that with or without the LIDs and federal funding, the three projects have been put out to bid and will go forward.

The estimated total cost for overlays on O'Gara and Burma roads in Harrison and Sunnyside Road in Coeur d'Alene is $3.9 million.

"The question is, what are we going to do if the LIDs don't go through? Funding is going to come out of our budget," said commission Chair Jimmie Dorsey. "We may have to let people go. We may have to cut maintenance, which everybody is going to feel."

The commissioners had already voted last month to approve the three controversial LIDs valued at half a million dollars. The funding mechanisms would match federal stimulus dollars, which will pay for more than 80 percent of the projects.

After a deluge of public protest, the commissioners had announced they would reconsider the LIDs at Monday's meeting.

They did not make a decision, however, due to the absence of legal counsel.

"We're not going to do anything until the counsel is here to make sure we're doing everything properly," Dorsey said.

Even if they do vote to pursue the LIDs, each of the LIDs would still be subject to review by Kootenai County, due to ample protest.

There must be protest letters from 60 percent of resident owners in an LID to require county review.

Seventy percent wrote in opposition to the Sunnyside LID, 69 percent against the O'Gara LID, and 72 percent against the Burma LID.

Testimony at Monday's meeting reflected such opposition.

"Don't reach out for something that's not there and then get your hand cut off," said William Trainor, who would have to contribute to the Burma LID. "You should have come to us first and found out."

Some said they could not afford the burden of contributing to the LIDs. Although the lowest contributions would be around $200, some said they would have to pay as much as $6,000.

Most were angry that the commissioners had already paid the $250,000 match for the federal dollars by borrowing from the district's general fund.

The commissioners admitted they had figured they could later create LIDs to cover those borrowed funds, as well as pay for engineering, legal and bond counsel services.

"These were end-of-the year, (stimulus) funds, and we had two weeks (to decide to apply). We had to make a choice," said Commissioner Jimmie Dorsey. "We looked at funding, we looked at legal counsel and we figured it was the way to go."

He added that if the commissioners decide not to pursue the LIDs, they will fund the projects out of the district's budget, even if it requires widespread cuts.

"Are we going to close up shop and go bankrupt? No," Dorsey said. "But we'll have to make some tough choices, for sure."

The district staff wasn't sure if it could get the $250,000 of match funds back if the commissioners decide against pursuing the LIDs. District Supervisor John Pankratz said he believes the district will still receive the federal funds.

Linda Bushling, who would be impacted by the Sunnyside LID, said she thought the commissioners had acted irresponsibly.

"You've threatened to take away our maintenance instead of just nixing it (the projects)," she said. "It seems to me you haven't considered part of this at all, that this was a good idea at first but now it isn't feasible. If I go out to buy a new car with all the bells and whistles and I can't afford it, I don't buy it."

Some said they didn't think the roads were in dire need of repair, though the commissioners said they might have to turn the roads back to gravel without the overlays.

Others also complained that the LIDs don't include all the affected property owners, particularly residents of Gaza Ranch alongside Burma Road.

Roughly 700 property owners would have to contribute to the LIDs.

The commissioners assured they would look into adding additional parcels if they approve the LIDs again.

"We're not ignoring you," Dorsey said.

The commissioners will next discuss the issue at the district meeting at 9 a.m. on Oct. 18 at the district office at 6095 E. Mullan Trail Road in Coeur d'Alene.

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