In the next few months we will be continually bombarded with statements such as Michael Teague's definition of who is running for City Council and Mayor of Coeur d'Alene. He attempted to define anyone other than the far right Mary Souza group as the FAR LEFT. Where did he get the information backing up this statement? Who knows, perhaps out of a hat. Or perhaps in his mind and those of his contemporaries anyone who is for visionary leadership is far left.
Visionary leadership looks at the possibilities; maintenance leadership wants to keep the status quo. It was visionary leadership that brought us the new Library, the Kroc Center, Riverstone, the Education Corridor and now McEuen Park. It brought us a new Police Station, a new Fire Station and an upgrade on the older fire stations.
It was visionary leadership that helped create the Emergency Medical System (EMS) Partnership that makes sure you have an ambulance when you need it. It was visionary leadership that renovated a dying downtown in the early '90s and made it the energetic jewel that it is today. It was visionary leadership that brought us Jobs Plus and 80+ new businesses employing hundreds of people.
We are going to hear a lot about property taxes and keeping them low. How about some facts: The City of Coeur d'Alene has more foregone tax saving than nearly every other city in Idaho. After this budget, that amounts to about $3.1 million. What are foregone taxes? Those are property taxes not taken by leadership over a number of years. That means that when the time came to budget, the Mayor and Council chose not to take the full 3 percent allowed by law. What that also means is that your City Staff are very frugal with your money.
How about your property taxes? I hear often that "All I want you to do is provide Police and Fire protection and fix the streets. Just maintain what we have. That is what I want my property taxes to do."
Well, here is an interesting fact: The income from property taxes in the City of Coeur d'Alene amount to $16,773,620. This year's budget for the Fire Department is $7,930,410. The budget for the Police Department is $10,503,340, totaling $18,433,750. That means that our property taxes are about one million seven hundred thousand dollars short of just covering Police and Fire Protection, two of the most important public safety functions that the City provides. We are fortunate to have other sources of income such as our share of sales and alcohol taxes along with enterprise funds (water and sewer funded by fees) to make up the difference in our $70 million-plus operating budget.
We are going to hear that our leadership is paid too much money, causing your property taxes to go up. Well, we have already addressed what your property taxes pay for, but let's talk about your city employees.
The administration including the department heads are responsible for managing the equivalent of a $70 million-plus business. They are managing 300-plus employees and answering to the public. Each Department head is the equivalent of the CEO of a small company. Let's just take the Street Department.
Tim Martin is responsible for miles of streets. He has to keep them repaired, clean and clear of snow in the winter and leaves in the fall. He has to buy and maintain enough equipment to do the job, he has crews repairing streets, sidewalks. He also is responsible for maintaining all the City vehicles including police cars as well as all of the heavy equipment such as loaders and dump trucks. He has to manage a budget, estimate how much gas he will use, how much beet juice to buy to melt ice, how much maintenance will be required for equipment throughout the year.
Or let's take the Parks Department. Due to Doug's retirement, Bill Greenwood will be taking care of parks. Again, how much water, how much fertilizer, how heavy is the use going to be, how many seasonal employees, how many full-time employees, arranging for permits to use the parks ... Then you add the cemetery management along with some of the more complicated natural open space parks, Tubbs Hill and the Centennial Trail.
Let's talk about the departments that have fewer employees. Human Relations has two employees along with Pam McDonald, the department head. This department is responsible for hiring, contracts, dealing with unions and employee organizations. They are in charge of all employee relations, Insurance and benefits. They have to understand and be prepared to deal with the state and federal laws regarding public employees. They advise the administration and the mayor and council on employee issues.
How about our Police Department and our Fire Department? Here are some interesting facts. Chief Wayne Longo manages the largest department in the city. His people are responsible for more than just law enforcement. They also manage all events such as the Fourth of July, Ironman, etc. Our police chief is not only managing his staff, but also budget, how much gas, how many hours in court requiring overtime, how to provide the best service encouraging his people in a very difficult job.
Our fire chief, Kenny Gabriel, is managing the second largest department in the city. Fire trucks, fire boat, wildland fire management, EMS and on and on. You already know how challenging managing the budget is and what it entails, but Chief Gabriel's department is recognized as one of the top departments in the state. Our firemen are continually updating their training to provide you the best public safety available. When we recruit for fire department jobs, we get well over 100 applications, sometimes as high as 200; same for police. So what do we get when we hire? THE BEST OF THE BEST.
Just recently at a council meeting, a motion was made to deny a 2 percent cost of living increase and any merit increases in pay to department heads only. Just to clarify, the total of all the 2 percent increase amounted to less than $40,000. Only one department head was eligible for merit pay. The excuse for this was that it would help reduce property taxes. Frankly, I am not sure how this would impact your property taxes, but it certainly made our department heads feel less valued. The motion failed with a 4-2 vote.
People want to work for the City of Coeur d'Alene, we provide good jobs with opportunities to work your way up in your profession. The single most important reason for this is the management of the city, those CEOs, those administrators and department heads who answer to a Board of Director (Mayor and Council) and to you the taxpayers for everything they do. Most of them have worked their way up to their present positions, starting out at lower pay, just as those in the private world do. Some of them are retiring and we are really going to miss their skills and talents. And we will be hiring to replace them, but those new hires for the most part will start out at a lower wage. They have to work their way up too.
Am I proud of them and honored to work with them? You bet, and you should be too.
Deanna Goodlander is a Coeur d'Alene City Council member.