No vote necessary

Steve Adams won't appeal judge's ruling, so no election needed

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COEUR d'ALENE - The election is off.

Coeur d'Alene City Councilman Steve Adams said he will withdraw his pledge to appeal a judge's ruling that green-lights major upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, meaning the city will secure roughly $33.5 million for the project through a judicial confirmation after all.

It also means the May 21 election will be called off.

Adams said Tuesday evening he was satisfied with 1st District Judge John Luster's decision issued hours before the City Council meeting that declared the project was "ordinary and necessary," and voter approval to secure the debt obligation wasn't required.

"As a result of Judge Luster's well-reasoned opinion, I believe that the interest of those of us who want to see the Idaho Constitution upheld have been met and satisfied," Adams said, reading from a statement. "Therefore I will not be pursuing an appeal of this decision and I fully support moving ahead without an election."

Luster's decision said that public safety and compliance requirements on the federally-mandated upgrades made the project necessary. The judge's ruling didn't weigh economic interests for the city, such as the lower interest rates available to the city through an Idaho Department of Environmental Quality loan. Rather, it addressed the project on a whole.

"The maintenance of public works, legal obligations, and the preservation of public health and safety are all expenses that Idaho courts have held constitute ordinary and necessary expenses," the judge wrote.

By not taking into account what funding options would be less expensive for the city, Adams said he was satisfied that the ruling followed the letter of the law.

"It has been my position all along, which I've been verbally criticized by council members and others for, that weighing economic considerations has no place in a judicial analysis on a question of Constitutionality of proceeding without election," Adams said.

The judicial confirmation allows the city to secure the money without voter approval.

The City Council, including Adams, originally voted to seek the confirmation, but then Adams changed his mind and said he preferred a vote to secure the debt, as the Constitution outlines on projects that aren't "ordinary and necessary."

Adams had pledged to appeal the judge's decision, which could have tied the issue up in court. To avoid the possible delay, the city sought to put the issue to an election because deadlines - and possible non-compliant fines - between the city, state and federal government loomed.

The change of stance led to several verbal dustups between Adams, the rest of the council and City Attorney Mike Gridley. The election route was pegged to cost the city more, as fees and interest rates on the open market would be higher than the low-interest rate the city had lined up through IDEQ. The city pegged a $36 million bond through an election.

But Adams said Luster's ruling didn't take financing into account when saying it was legal to skip the voters in this instance, so the councilman withdrew his appeal pledge.

The city will hold a special call meeting by Friday to put Adams' pledge not to appeal in writing. Because Adams was the only party to object to the confirmation in court, he is the only one who can appeal the decision, Gridley said. Friday is also the deadline to notify Kootenai County the city will not have an election.

"Thank you Steve," Councilman Mike Kennedy told Adams. "I think that's a stand-up thing to do and appropriate."

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