Last-ditch Person Field confab tonight

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By TOM HASSLINGER

Staff writer

COEUR d’ALENE — So far, negotiations have stalled, tensions have strained and the two entities are “far apart” in what each sees as the true worth for Person Field.

But the city of Coeur d’Alene and School District 271 will sit down tonight for what could be one last effort to work out a deal that would sell the school district’s half of the field to the city, guaranteeing the 7-acre plot off 15th Street remains a public park.

That part of the deal both sides agree on: Keeping it a park.

How much it’s worth, however, has been a source of division, as has what should or shouldn’t be included in the deal.

What started as a request for $655,000 for the 3.8 acre parcel of land has now turned into an offer that calculates the worth of gun safes for school officers and the equipment that goes in them.

“We’re far apart,” said Wendell Wardell, the school district’s chief operations officer, on the latest negotiations, which originally launched in September. “They’re over there in gyms, and we’re over here in security.”

The school board this week rejected the city’s offer for the school district’s parcel of Person Field, and countered with a deal that offers to sell Bryan Field to the city along with Person Field as well as pay for more school resource officers in exchange for more cash from the city — $883,537.

That figure includes the fully appraised value for Person Field — a value the city disputes. And Bryan Field, city officials said Wednesday, is public space the school uses, so the city has no intention of buying it. It said it’s turning the offer down.

“They’re trying to sell public land to the pubic,” city attorney Mike Gridley said Wednesday. “It just seems to me odd and not fair.”

Tonight’s meeting comes on the heels of a pair of public meetings where each side, in part, criticized the other.

On Monday, the school district rejected the city’s offer which included extended gym access and the dog park portion of Northshire Park along with $655,000. The city and district have a pair of agreements, Joint Powers and Shared Use, that allows the city recreation department to use around a dozen school facilities between the agreements. Extending the contract on two school gyms through the Shared Use agreement while gaining access to up to two more schools and the dog park would help offset the value the city believes Person Field is worth — $327,660.

But the school board said the city is requesting essentially $700,000 worth of school district resources, and that the school district is losing money on maintenance and operation costs by allowing the city the use of some of its facilities through the JPA.

It lost $62,000 in maintenance costs alone in a year, Wardell said, which is “bleeding” the district.

After the city announced its offer, Coeur d’Alene Superintendent Hazel Bauman was critical the city went public with the offer, saying it swayed “the court of public opinion” against the school district. The offer was made by the city, she said, with the intent that “they don’t really have to buy it.”

The district is seeking $655,000, and the offer with contingencies devalues that, regardless of the past relationship and deals the two entities have made.

“It’s not really full value at that point,” she said. “We’re really in an untenable situation.”

But the city said it went public with the offer because it was two public entities negotiating, and didn’t involve a possible private third party like when talks first started, which required them to go to executive session. It didn’t do so to gain an upper hand in the public’s view, officials said.

While tonight’s meeting was called to see if the two sides can agree on a deal, both sides are comparing each side’s numbers, and those numbers differ, too.

The school district calculates the city has used around 4,500 hours worth of school space from July to November. City numbers pulled from recreation log sheets show that the city used about 900 hours from October through early January.

Both sides have also pointed out what services they have provided the other in the past.

After the City Council referenced the $450,000 the city’s urban renewal agency gave Sorensen Magnent School four years ago as a sign of the good working relationship with the district, Bauman responded that the urban renewal agency was a separate entity that didn’t have to do with negotiating with the city. (The City Council did have to approve the agency’s request to expand its reach to make the payment possible.)

Bauman then pointed to the roughly $175,000 the district paid in stormwater utility fees to the city, which the district requested the city refund. The city suspended collecting that utility before rewriting it in light of a Idaho Supreme Court decision in Lewiston that deemed a similar structure as an illegal tax, but the city said it wasn’t obligated to pay it back. The stormwater money is now calculated into the district’s latest offer, which “blindsided” the city, Finance Director Troy Tymesen said.

Also in the district’s offer are the salaries of three new school resource officers — city employees — the district would pay for. That would be a financial strain, the board said, but worth it. The two currently share the costs for SROs.

But tracking down who has done what for whom in the past, and at what value, would be unproductive, city officials said Wednesday, especially since the two entities have worked well together in the past. It is the first time the two sides have worked on any deal since the recently-comprised school board came together.

“I hope they see the tremendous value in continuing to share,” City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said, adding that all the shared resources, such as when firefighters hose down school tennis courts, would be impossible to tally. “We’ve been doing this for years and years.”

But Wardell said the use agreements created an “imbalance” in the relationship in favor of the city. He also said this week he did not calculate the value of the school district’s use of city property, which is also outlined in the JPA like baseball fields at Ramsey and McEuen parks, when calculating the figures.

The JPA will have to be re-addressed separately down the line, he said. In the meantime, the easiest transaction to do for Person Field, either with the city or through a sealed bid process if that’s the route the board goes, is a straight across transaction.

“A deal is very simple to do,” Wardell said, “when you have it all in dollars.”

In fact, both sides said Person Field needs to be unwound from other components, like the JPA, which is separate from the Shared Use agreement that the city proposed extending.

But the entities don’t see eye to eye on other factors, such as the property’s appraisal and statute interpretation around the deal. The school board has pushed back deadlines more than once to see if it can come to an agreement with the city. Tonight’s meeting at 5 p.m. in the Community Room of the public library will be one more attempt.

“I hope something comes from it,” said Brent Regan, school board member. “I really do.”

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