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Monday, September 29, 2008

Cast Your Ballot At The Kitchen Table This Election

This is a bit of a re-run, but it serves as a good reminder to use an absentee ballot if you are a registered voter. Both Ada and Canyon Counties have switched to the new system and clerks fear a traffic jam at the polls November 4.

Hanging chads are a thing of the past for Ada County and Canyon voters–those familiar punch card ballots are being replaced by simple “legal size” paper 8.5 x 14 inch ballots.

These will be filled in with a black fine point felt pen and read with an optical scanner–like those old SAT and college tests we all remember where a “#2 lead pencil was essential.

The new system offers a “paper trail” and seems to be more tamper proof than various computer methods. It will, however, take you much longer to case your vote this time around at the polling places. Long lines are expected if you don't choose to vote early via absentee ballot.

The punch card and stylus system is no longer used because there was only one guy in the country who knew how to fix the reader machines–the guy who invented it.

The paper ballots with blank oval boxes to be filled in are as simple as the new “booths” which are a cleverly designed pasteboard box which pops into an instant polling position.
The box booths will probably last only for an election cycle or two, but they only cost $3 and don’t require any assembly or electricity.

In addition to the Obama-McCain presidential race, it is a long ballot with county commishes and state legislative candidates.

Both county’s election officials are urging folks to “vote early” (but not often) to help with the expected delays caused by the new system and the lengthy ballot. Questions are being taken at 208-287-6860 in Ada and 208-454-7562 in Canyon County.

Ask for an absentee ballot application or you can go to the elections office at the Canyon County Courthouse Elections and Passports Office at 11th Avenue and Chicago Street in Caldwell. You can also fax your request for an absentee ballot in Canyon County at 208- 454-6899. You will receive your ballot and return it via snail mail or taking it directly to the elections office at 1103 E. Chicago St.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Commishes Finalize Job Service Building Purchase

The Board of Canyon County Commissioners signed an agreement Sept. 24, to purchase the Department of Labor Building on Graye Lane in Caldwell from the Idaho Department of Lands for $1.25 million, with closing on the property tentatively scheduled to take place in early October.

According to the agreement, if the Department of Labor staff is still using the building at the time of closing, the department will pay the county to lease the building until it is able to move to its new facility in the Sky Ranch development.

Once the county takes possession of the building, the county Building and Maintenance staff will begin remodeling it to house a new Driver’s License and License Plate office, as well as other offices which may be housed there in the future.

A few years from now we will be getting a pitch from our Commishes to "unify" all county operations under one roof. This is a band aid purchase to facilitate conversion of third floor offices in the courthouse to courtrooms.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where Is the Point of No Return On Canyon Jail Project

It was "SUMMARY JUDGEMENT DAY" today and the Canyon County Commishes found themselves in front of Justice Linda Copple-Trout and they lost their bid for a dismissal of a citizen initiated law suit over jail expenses out on Highway 20/26. The Judge also did not allow an injunction to stop any further expenses. THE GUARDIAN sat through most of the testimony presented by County Chief Civil Deputy Chuck Saari and the Citizen's attorney Richard Harris.

The short version is the Commishes have just about reached the "point of no return" on this jail deal. The Judge frequently cited Article 8 section 3 as she probed both sides in this case. At some yet to be defined point in time, expenses will create a legally defianable tax liability for taxpayers going beyond one budget cycle The Commishes will have finally violated Article 8 section 3 of the Idaho Constitution.

Expenses so far are about $1.5 million for engineering costs and about $2 million for land purchases on the jail project. Commishes admitted to having $2 million more in the 2009 fiscal year budget for water and sewer lines to the property but have not yet let the contracts for the work. The water and sewer improvements may constitute the point of no return and cross that line the judge is looking to determine. This adds up to around $5.5 million and we still won't have a jail facility or any voter approvals.

The Judge is waiting for more information from Mr. Harris gleaned from depositions of Commishes and other elected and appointed officials taken earlier this week. The legal process grinds forward in this case. It remains to be seen if the Commishes realize where they are headed with the Judge if they continue to push their luck.

What really needs to happen is for the Commishes to put a CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BOND ELECTION up for voter approval. They have the third floor of the courthouse hallways loaded and cluttered with church pews that will go in courtrooms to be built when the Assessor, Platt Room and Development Services offices are vacated from the courthouse.

It has not yet come out in the media but the Commishes will close on the Job Service building purchsse on October 3, 2008. Price to be paid is $1.3 million to the State Lands Board. They will then have to front the costs of the moves of licensing offices, assessor and development serives out to the new site along with the conversion costs of those old offices to new courtrooms on the third floor of the courthouse. This move could run into several millions for the conversions and remodel jobs.

The judge gave them some breathing room but not much in court today.

Left Side of Road Safer for Bicycles

Now that the weather has cooled down and heat from the roads has abated THE GUARDIAN has taken note of more and more people out and about on bicycles. It is time to take a serious look at the practice of riding bicycles on the right side of the road. Bicyclists have no chance in the event of a collision with cars, trucks and buses.

I use my bicycle to roll around town on errands to pay bills, banking and just for the fun and exercise it allows for my aging joints and muscles. I have had what I perceive to be no less than three near misses in the last few days with cars passing me when I am on narrow streets with two way traffic. Vehciles are on top of you before you have a chance to react to a life threatening situation.

It hit my brain that pedestrians are encouraged to walk on the left side of the road. Why not the same encouragements and permissions for bicycles to be on the left side of the road as well? I have moved over to the left side of the road and guess what? No more near misses with cars and trucks! It is amazing what eye contact does to eliminate poor judgement on the parts of drivers unwilling to cede right of way to bicycles.

Left side riding permits you to see any vehicle danger headed your way and permit some last second evasive action to divert a disaster. Cars and trucks never will come out second best in a vehicle/bicycle accident. It is time to start making some noise about this with the Politicos.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Are Reverse Mortgages Predatory Lending

Children with aging parents are facing some very difficult choices. Parents may not fully understand the consequences of poor end of life decisions. The worst of which is what to do when the only assets left are the home parents have lived in forever and income sources based on retirements and social security started many years ago and have not kept up with inflation and living costs.

Up to rescue us all comes the banking industry with their latest scam to relieve the elderly of their last remaining asset of any value. They will advance a line of credit based on the age of the youngest title holder of the home and it will be about 40-60% of the current market valuation of the property. Front end loading costs will be $20-$25,000.00 to satisfy all the HUD, title insurance, mortgage default insurance and commissions that come off the top. Parents can expect a montly revenue stream of $1-2K/month depending on the asset or they can blow the entire line of credit on that trip to Europe before they die. The homeowners must continue to pay property taxes, insurance, homeowner association dues and upkeep/maintenance costs or face foreclosure.

The ugly side of this deal is once folks who take out these loans and can no longer live in their homes, the note is due and payable immediately. A reasonable amount of time is given to liquidate the property by the bank. The bank will get their money plus all interest that has accrued on the line of credit. Interest rates are not fixed, they are variable and reset regularly mostly up and not down.

What happens if the people taking out the loan squander the line of credit or become incompetent to manage their affairs or income sources evaporate upon the death of a spouse. More than likely the surviving spouse will no longer be able to meet the financial obligations of property taxes, insurance, homeowner association fees and upkeep on the home. Again, it will be move out time and the house sold at the pleasure of the bank.

What happens when both the husband and wife end up in assisted living or skilled nursing environment due deteriorating health or other unforseen condition? The house is sold immediately out from under them and the bank gets their money. Any residual goes to the property owners once the place is sold and expenses rekated to satisfying the reverse mortgage and sale commissions and expenses are paid.

Best advise, sell the house and rent it back from the buyer or move to another home you like as a rented property. You will get full market value for the asset and you or your estate trustee can manage the net profits to pay your expenses. Cash and dividends generated from the sale of the property will go a lot farther toward a dignified exit from this life than possible with a reverse mortgage. Should either the husband or wife need to be moved to an assisted living or skilled nursing environment the cash is there to pay for this expense.

A reverse mortgage is just another financial instrument with a "funky smell" that preys on the elderly in the name of "providing them with easy access to money". Their big sell is the heirs are only interested in cleaning out the estate and they may as well do it themselves and go out in a blaze of fun and glorious excess before they die. No mention of conserving cash assets is mentioned. Life is for the living and "you" deserve to spend this money and your future be damned.

The real challenge for all of us is to figure out how to make certain that our money will outlive us and not the other way around. A reverse mortgage does not insure this will happen.

Elderly people in deteriorating health circumstances owe it to themselves to visit assisted living providers properties and weigh what they have to offer. A good number offer graduated care options starting with independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing all in the same environment. They are not death camps!

Final word, death is not optional so plan for your exit.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

$30,000 Worth of Tables Purloined From Jail Site

It has been reported to THE GUARDIAN that $30,000.00 worth of steel tables have been stolen from the new jail construction site on Highway 20/26. The tables were designed and built to go in the living units of the new jail. Solid steel and powder coated from reports supplied to me,the steel tables were stored in a vacant building on the property.

The County Deciders and the Sheriff have a APB out on the tables but apparently have not filed a police report on the theft of county property. All the Politicos are keeping mum on this deal hoping against hope they will turn up before this story gets out to the public.

It is just one more example of getting out ahead of voter approvals on this jail project. The tables in question were built with maintenance department help and stored in a vacant building at the new jail site. This much steel in one location that was unattended proved to be an easy target for the thieves. It is assumed that they were stolen and cut up for scrap. All $30,000.00 worth is now probably on its way to make new steel consumer goodies for those of us who have any money left to spend after this past week on Wall Street.

It will be interesting to see if the local media pick up on this fiasco and make the effort to put some Elected Deciders up for public comment on this blunder. $30K of our tax dollars and probably additional serious money for the labor and materials to fabricate these tables is now a bad memory that nobody at 1115 Albany wants to talk about.

Editor note: Sheriff Smith clarified at a recent meeting the tables were stolen and the value is correct but they were in prefab form and not yet completed. They have a suspect and are building a case against this individual.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Team Tom Is Looking to Privatize EMT/Ambulance Service In the Great State of Nampa

The relationship with Canyon County Paramedics and the city of Nampa has been less than cordial over the past few years. It is about to become a legal battle paid for by all Canyon County taxpayers. EMSS is the new legislation package that will go to the Idaho Legislature. (EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES SYSTEM)

THE GUARDIAN has learned that Team Tom and Fire Fighters of Nampa are looking at Rural Metro Corporation out of Scottsdale, Arizona to provide ambulance service for the city of Nampa.

Research on Rural Metro reveals that they come in as a private entity and kickback money to the cities where they operate. (City of San Francisco gets $400K/year kicked back.) Team Tom and the Fire Crew have been at odds over the years with Canyon County Paramedics and it appears to be heading toward an all out battle at taxpayer expense when they finally make the move to withdraw from Canyon County Paramedic Services.

The plan as reported to THE GUARDIAN has the fair city of Nampa withdrawing from the County Program in much the same fashion they did with the Animal Control War. A move that may not have been a good financial choice given the capitalization costs, new payroll and benefit costs, vehicles, insurance, etc. now borne by the taxpayers of Nampa.

The Canyon County Paramedic program got started back in the mid-1970's. Ambulance service in the early days was usually provided by local Funeral Homes. Next, two private ambulance companies, Canyon Ambulance and Twin Cities Ambulance services operated until they went bankrupt around 1973.

Back in the day fire fighters were approached about taking on this responsibility. Fire guys response was, they fight fires and would not be ambulance/paramedic guys on top of what they were already doing. The problem continued to fester and people died needlessly. Folks in the cites managed to get themselves to hospital emergency rooms and the country folks either got their on their own or died. The mortuary people and the two private ambulance operators got tired of not getting paid for "dry runs" where they were summoned for service but the "client" had managed to get to the ER via some other means. This situation forced the creation of property taxpayer supported Canyon County Paramedics.

Every property taxpayer pays into the Canyon County Paramedic taxing district and all was well until a few years ago. As it stands in today's world Fire Guys all over the country don't have all that much to do for most of their working hours. Fire codes and modern building methods have taken actual fire fighting way, way down from what it was years ago. What to do now?

Where I live we now get to pay for two entities to show up at 911 emergency calls. Canyon County Paramedics and the Caldwell Fire Dept. When it takes minutes to get to the emergency, seconds can count when a life threatening emergency 911 call is placed. This keeps the fire guys statistics for service up and more than a few folks this side of the lawn. However, all of the transporting to hospital ER's is done by Canyon County Paramedics. Nampa wants to have a "do over" and garner the taxes paid by Nampa citizens into the city coffers. They want their Fire Guys and Rural Metro to take care of Nampa 911 medial calls and ambulance services.

The move to RURAL METRO CORPORATION for EMS Ambulance service, if allowed to move forward, does not bode well for any of us. The Great State of Nampa, if they pull this maneuver off, will end up costing everyone in Canyon County more money. Additionally, Rural Metro will kick back a "franchise fee" to the city of Nampa at our expense. Team Tom ends up with more money in the city treasury to spend.

The same war is about to start in Boise. A visit to the Boise Fire Fighter Union website references a trip to Salem, Oregon to check out Rural Metro service in that area.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Is Going On In The Financial Markets?

What is going on with the federal bail outs and banks all over the world participating in the bail outs of United States financial institutions? The short answer is preservation of access to capital for world markets.

The world economy is predicated on fast and reasonably easy access to capital markets. Without it we are in the same boat as a third world country with lots of natural resources but no money.

Examples abound in South American and African countries. Peasant farmers and merchants may own their land or business but their lack of recorded deeds and business instruments makes their claim on assets undefined and of little or no value with respect to getting any loans or access to capital to expand their operations. They have no proof of ownership, eventhough the assets may have been in their families for generations. Recorded deeds and solid proof of ownership are not the norm in third world countries.

Right now we have a "frozen credit market" with banks unwilling to loan any money to anyone for any reason for fear they will have a run on their capital reserves. Banks can loan out many times the amounts of money they have on deposit in savings and demand deposits (aka checking accounts). The multiple is dictated by the Federal Reserve. It gets a lot more complicated than what I have presented here but cash, currency and coins in the economy represent a small fraction of the actual "money" flying around the world markets. It is for the most part debt secured by an equity position in some type of asset.

Financial markets are by defintion predicated on the belief that lender's will get repaid and borrower's will perform on the debts they have taken from the system. When the belief in the system gets toxic and debtors can't repay all hell breaks loose. Investments in non-liquid assets creates "technical insolvency". Fire sales of companies and their assets create a feeding frenzy in the economy.

With defaults in the housing market and other commercial paper assets, equity positions of those seeking credit is suspect to lenders. Financial markets granting credit have tightened requirements for loans and access to credit. Without access to capital via credit the economy comes to a grinding halt. Jobs, and demand for consumer products come to a screeching halt. Faith in the ability of creditors to pay back loans becomes suspect by lenders. Assets instead of appreciating in value, declining in value. Banks are not confident in loan to value ratios.

This may end up as the GREAT DEPRESSION of the modern era. However, the allways suspect government has acted quickly to stop the bleeding. Banks may have the toxic assets off their balance sheets but they still lack money and reserves. It will take some time for them to restore themselves to a position where credit is easily obtainable. Money market certificates may be a great investment after the election.

This is why the Western World Banks have come to the rescue of the United States Financial System. If we go down the tube the world economy falls with us. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the credit market to un-freeze. Meantime, a lot of stocks and bonds are at fire sale prices and those with cash are going to make a lot of money out of all this misery.

This is a basic outline of the problem and time will tell if the fixes have resolved the issues with access to capital.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

War Failures: Cancer and Drugs

THE GUARDIAN ran across some interesting statistics this past week and wanted to share them with you.

In the early 1970's two wars were declared: The War on Cancer and The War on Drugs. President Nixon was confident of victory in our time with these two high profile and high tax dollar funded war efforts. Here we are headed toward the fourth decade of these two wars and the statistics are pretty dismal.

If a war were killing 565,000 Americans each year, you would have heard a lot of noise about cancer death rates at the Democratic and Republican Conventions this past summer. Not a peep was heard about The War on Cancer. Reason, the cancer war has been raging and cancer is winning. Cancer is a disease(s) that destroys families and costs our economy $200 Billion Dollars annually in lost productivity. The facts are most cancers remain incurable. If you live long enough cancer will be the odds on health malady to take you out. We spend about $4,500 per year, per person in this country on health care and are about 41st in the world for longevity for all this expense.

Next, we have The War on Drugs. The cost of this war is about $40 Billion a year. Costs of drug related incarceration amount to $30 Billion with $10 Billion for enforcement and prosecution efforts. The war on drugs has been nothing less than a complete failure. As we head toward the fourth decade of this war, we have more availability of a wider variety of drugs with higher strength than ever before. Deaths from drugs are more than twice as high per capita in this country as they are in places like the Netherlands where drugs are openly sold (and taxed). Makes you wonder what would happen if we simply declared victory in this war and made them legal and taxed them like all other "sin taxed" commodities.

You can pull up the statistics on these two wars with little effort via the Internet. The numbers are sobering and depressing at the same time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pioneer Irrigation District Can't Get Along With Anyone for Any Reason

The "can't we all just get along" award goes to Pioneer Irrigation District. The good people at Pioneer Irrigation and their attorney Scott Campbell have squared off on the issue run off from Caldwell city streets and subdivisions and where it should go.

Your property rights for drainage are at stake with this lawsuit. The outcome will be felt statewide if PID wins.

The short version of the argument goes something like this. PID is worried about contaminants from city streets and private property ending up in irrigation canals. PID has not defined where or what the "contaminants" are coming from but want it to cease immediately. The city maintains runoff has been allowed to go into the PID canals forever and reflects decades of "past practices". Mr. Scott Campbell, the attorney for PID, successfully ran the meter with Settler's Irrigation District to the tune of $650,000 dollars for their rate payers only to have this same issue tossed out of court this past May. Mr. Campbell is the only person that will benefit from all the legal slings and arrows about to fly. PID rate payers and city residents will get stuck paying legal the bills. You may have seen the news release on the PID increases to pay for this legal scam.

Contamination is the crux of the issue raised by PID. Forget about the fact that the stuff they use to control weeds along their canal and ditch banks creates exposure to the public of category III herbicides and pesticides labeled with a skull and crossbones. Oh, and let's not forget about the stuff routinely used by farmers that goes into the irrigation water as runoff from their fields. Toxicity of the stuff used to grow our food requires a license before you can buy or apply most of this stuff at the poison stores in the valley.

We are all charged with being good stewards of the land and environment. The city of Caldwell is doing is what has gone on for decades and continues to be practiced all over the State of Idaho uncontested. What needs to happen. You need to get involved with the next board election that will take place this fall at Pioneer Irrigation.

The only problem is that PID does not operate with a "one man, one vote" set of rules. It goes like this with PID, one acre, equals one vote. They stack the board and write the rules with a few sympathetic growers and us city folk can just fagedda bout it. Caldwell Finance Director, Eljay Waite tried to get on the board at PID and he simply did not have the "acreage votes" to make become a member of Club PID.

Editor note:
You can go to the PID website and they have all the goodies on this lawsuit posted. Including a couple of photos of the alledged contamination problem, news releases, and filings. Court records indicate Caldwell has filed a motion for a jury trial. Pioneer Irrigation has filed a motion to not permit a jury trial.

Judge Decides No New Jail Without Voter Approval

A District Court Judge in Sandpoint says no vote of the people means no new jail!
Everyone's constitutional rights up held with this action.

A district judge in Sandpoint killed plans to build a new Bonner County juvenile detention center and work release facility without tax payer approval.

The plan called for land at the sheriff's office complex in Sandpoint to be leased to Rocky Mountain Corrections, a private for profit business. The private company would then finance construction of a 34-bed juvenile detention facility and a 60-bed work release center.

The county would use taxpayer dollars to pay yearly lease payments of $782,000 and would own the two facilities after 30 years. The Bonner County Commishes worked out a financing scheme around a taxpayer vote by "saying" they would use inmate fees and payments for inmates from other jurisdictions. None the less it created a debt not approved by taxpayers according to the judge in this case

This past Friday, First District Judge Charles W. Hosack ruled the plan violates our Idaho Constitution. Specifically, Article 8 section 3, which requires a public vote and super majority on debts and liabilities that extend beyond one budget year.

The ruling made by Judge Hosack affirms a local citizen lawsuit that was made against the Canyon County Commishes on the Jerome property jail project and the issue of standing decided in that case when it ended up in the Idaho Supreme Court.

Our Commishes have yet another citizen lawsuit on their new jail project. We hope they tune into this case if for no other reason than to save Canyon County taxpayers more wasted money and embarrassment. Stay tuned this will have local implications.

Actions by city and county deciders to circumvent voter approvals of high dollar capital projects will more than likely take an intersting twist this year with the state legislature. They tried to get a sweetheart deal passed last year that would have given them a blank check book but it got defeated in the waning hours of the session.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Regional/Ubran Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT)

THE GUARDIAN got his hands on the 1991 R/UDAT study done for the city of Caldwell in 1991. Here we are in the year 2008, fully seventeen years later, and an additional $450,000 dollars worth of additional studies on what should happen in Caldwell. Progress has been pretty dismal looking backward from then until today.

The R/UDAT effort was put together by a group of civic minded concerned citizens of Caldwell and an ouside group of professional architects, planners and former elected officials brought into the community for a cold hard look at our community. The report is pretty blunt and to the point.

The time was ripe and the citizens left to implement the recommendations struck out with a great deal of gusto on number one on the list. Council-Manager form of government. It failed by 16 votes and the R/UDAT report hit the dust heap of Caldwell history.

Page six of the R/UDAT 1991 study recommendations are as valid today as they were when put together in 1991. To be fair, some of the things listed have been done but for the most part we continue to drift as a community without a plan for our future when it comes to using best practices for government, growth and development. Lack of political will, inability to see into the future or take a good look in the rear view mirror of hindsight are the chief faults of elected Caldwell City Government today and for the past seventeen years.

First on the list of recommendations presented to a group of about 450 excited residents hungry for change back in 1991 was to shift the city over to a council-manager form of government. Caldwell was the 113th city to take advantage of the process offered by conducting a R/UDAT study.

AIA architects, certified planners, former big city mayors and other professionals from outside the community shared their collective knowledge and wisdom on the opportunities for improving Caldwell. Best practices of the day went into the R/UDAT report effort.

Skimming over the list of what we needed to implement were strong development standards and to define what we wanted to be as a community. Even and consistent application of well defined community standards (design review) with respect to development and growth were also parts of the report. Reorganize city departments into not more than five city departments whose directors answer directly to a city manager was recommended. Strengthen land use regulations and code enforcement. Create consensus on a strong infill policy of existing undeveloped areas to relive strain on city infrastructure.

What has happened seventeen years later? We spent an additional $450,000 dollars on more studies, created urban sprawl, more demand for city services with haphazard development requiring more and more city water and sewer services miles and miles away from the city center. Allowed strip commercial development to go up in areas not consistent with what was wanted or needed. We paid for (and continue to pay)more and more city infrastructure on the backs of property tax payers and rate payers of the city via poorly executed exactments from developers and "hide the ball" use of a property tax driven urban renewal district to subsidize developers and their projects. Our elected officials quail at the threat of lawsuits if developers do not get their way. Standards and regulations are bent and or broken to accommodate developers at the expense of good planning practices.

THE GUARDIAN would encourage anyone interested in the future of Caldwell, Nampa or Canyon County to take a good look at the 1991 Caldwell R/UDAT study. There is a tremendous amount of 20/20 hindsight as well as forward thinking that went into this report. The City Clerk has it as a PDF and can send it to you via email on request.

Once all the "sweet spots" have been developed in any city in a haphazard unplanned manner it will be party over for the community. People left in the community will be scratching their heads wondering just what happened. Not many cities are in the position that Caldwell has right now with a "do over" for the downtown area and still time to get serious about planned growth within the impact area of our city.

City Manager government will bring a trained professional into the mix and will save us all a lot of money and prevent mistakes as we grow. It won't happen without a bottom up citizen demand for action.

If you don't see anything wrong with the photo in this post you miss the point and all is well.