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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Commishes Wisely Understand the Depth of Revenue Shortfall

Canyon County Commissioners met yesterday for a formal public review of budgets vs revenue streams. The picture is pretty bleak. Fee for services streams have all but dried up in certain areas of county government. The only stable revenue stream is the one we all hate the taxes.

Shortfalls are feared to be $6.6 million and may even be worse as we move forward this budget year. The Commishes are to be congratulated for this proactive review of county finances. They now know what has to be done to avoid a financial "train wreck".

This is a severe financial downturn not experienced by local governments in my lifetime. Let's all hope local city governments can figure out what they too have to do to manage their financials.

Sales tax revenues are down 19% and revenue sharing is down 10% on top of the fee for services part of the county budgets. Local cities can't be in much better shape. It will be interesting to see how the mayors of Caldwell and Nampa react to the Canyon County revenue news in the local paper today. Will they take the necessary steps to get out in front of this mess or will they wait for the "train wreck" headed their way.

The days of plentiful tax dollars are at an end for the foreseeable future and along with that reality the days of "bling, baubles, and goodies" are over. Time for our elected officials to show some real leadership in guiding us through this mess.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Budgets vs. Revenues

THE GUARDIAN noted wthe great interest the budget and revenue meeting scheduled for 10:00 AM Monday morning. Does this mean the Commishes are actually going to take a look at what they budgeted last August against what is actually happening with revenue streams? (We can all live in hope this is the case.)

The Developmental Services Department projected a user fee revenue stream of nearly $80k per month last August. The sad truth is fees have been less than $20k/month of late. Other county functions tied to the real estate market bust can't be in much better shape. All we can hope for is our Elected Officials take a proactive approach to this issue and deal with it before they go broke.

We had a blow-up deal a while back with the County Treasurer because the Commishes could not understand the difference between having stuff budgeted and the money not actually there to spend. They forgot it has to be collected and in the bank before it can get spent.

Let's give them the benefit of the above hindsight and hope they deal with any budget shortfalls early on in the government process of managing their revenue streams.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and Freedom of Information Policy, Too Much Secrecy

'Too much secrecy'
In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.

Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said. Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.

"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," Obama said.

He said the orders he was issuing Wednesday will not "make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be" nor go as far as he would like.

"But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country," Obama said. "And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people, in the days and weeks, months and years to come."

There is hope this new policy will trickle down in the Great State of Idaho to the local levels of our government. It will be interesting to see how Canyon County handles requests under Mr. Bujack. Already we are hearing good things on the Civi side of the Prosecutor's Office.

Idaho Economic Decline Deep in 2008 Will be Deeper 2009

Idaho Department of Labor January 2009 Issue / November 2008 Data

The economic slowdown that was anticipated through 2008 was clearlydeeper than expected. This full-blown recession is mirroring the unemployment pattern of the 2001recession. But non farm jobs, which stalled but did not decline during the 2001 recession and its aftermath, have been dropping steadily since last spring and will continue falling behind year-earlier levels while the unemployment rate escalates through much of 2009. In December 2007 Idaho had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.7 percent.

There may have been some question about the quality of the jobs the economy was generating. But based on the fact that help-wanted signs were just about everywhere, there was no question that there were jobs for people who wanted to work.The change over the past year could not be more stark.

By December 2008 Idaho’s unemployment rate had shot up nearly four full percentage points to 6.6 percent. It was up nine-tenths of a point from November, when 18 other states had lower unemployment rates and the economy was beginning to shed jobs at a serious rate. No other state saw an unemployment rate increase as great as Idaho’s on a percentage basis, and only two states – Rhode Island and North Carolina – posted increases of more than Idaho’s three percentage points from November 2007 to November 2008.

For the first time ever, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund paid more than $6 million a week in benefits during the first three weeks of December, $7.5 million in the last week, $9 million in the first week of January and over $10 million in the second.

Non farm unemployment in Canyon County now stands at 7.9%, compared to 2.7% December 2007. Working people are already having to deal with all this bad news. Let's hope the local at state elected politicos don't make any serious blunders to exacerbate this situation further. Mr. Otter understands the dire straights Idaho is in and has delivered the message quite well in his State of the State address. The local politicos continue to be worrisome with their tax and spend ways.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Clean, Paint, Maintain as You Go!

THE GUARDIAN read the IPT article in the Saturday edition about Canyon County Jail problems and noted the photos used as visual aids. The finger pointing is now well underway on how and why a public asset got to this stage of neglect.

Nothing in the list sent by the Jail Commander up the line has anything to do with needing a new facility. THE GUARDIAN would offer the management need only to look at any US Naval ship or other military installation for a benchmark model on how to maintain assets. Military ships, barracks, airplanes, tanks, trucks, and equipment are many years old before they are relegated to the scrap pile.

Cleaning, painting and maintenance are constant activities to keep all their stuff ready for deployment and a moments notice. A jail is not unlike a ship. The crews live on board and all cleaning, painting and maintenance is done with the crew living in their assigned quarters. Rarely does a crew of a ship live anywhere but on the ship. Even in dry dock and yard overhaul cycles crews must live on board. Everything gets done and the work gets done. As a practical matter the need to house inmates elsewhere while cleaning and painting takes place does has the ring of "weak sauce" to anyone who spent any time in the military services of our great country.

The finger pointing needs to stop and the resources applied to get the cleaning, painting and maintenance issues addressed. The likelihood of a bond passing is not good given the information presented in the media and the state of the economy.

It will be interesting to see what the official response to the ACLU lawsuit will be from the Commishes and the Sheriff. The media needs to give these folks a full court press on the issues of neglect and poor maintenance of our public assets.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Atrificial Reality or Real World Economy You Decide

THE GUARDIAN read with interest Mayor Nancolas' State of the City Address summary in the local papers. Mayor Nancolas has consistently over promised and under delivered on substance of his speeches. The Mayor does a great job of making us all feel good but where is all of this going without benefit of a defined plan and cash to carry out any plan that may be waiting in the wings?

We continue forward without a defined plan for downtown despite having spent over $300,000 on various planning efforts over the years. The need for a new city hall (aka Catalyst Project) is questionable given everyone already has office space. TVCC is another questionable "want" given the state of enrollments at the College of Western Idaho and other higher education and post secondary facilities in the valley. CWI is nowhere near their expected enrollment for the spring 2009 semester.

Has anyone asked the taxpayers of Caldwell if they want to fund yet another community college and be double taxed for this? Have any citizen commission studies been done to certify the need for this expansion effort? The only known about this is the TVCC building plan was hatched by our Urban Renewal board and the ground breaking ceremony out at Sky Ranch. Are we now on plan "B" with the shift to downtown Caldwell as the new site of choice. How was this decision made and who were the players? Where is the COMMUNITY CONSENSUS BUILDING with this effort?

A unilateral move by the Mayor and Urban Renewal Director mirror the GAZEBO snafu we had last spring. The Mayor assured everyone "this would never happen again". Here we are in a new year and the latest end run around the public process is the TVCC project for downtown. We were promised a CONSENSUS BUILDING effort out of city hall on projects funded by tax dollars. This simply has not been the case once again.

THE GUARDIAN noted the statement at the end of the article in the local paper the levy rate would not increase due to this financial boondoggle. Reason is Urban Renewal is not a part of the city but they siphon off $6 million a year from the property tax base. Their levy rate is the same as the city levy rate. It is called ..hide the ball, three card Monty or any other con game.

Where is the MASTER PLAN FOR DOWNTOWN? The last decent example of a formal plan is the Leland Report costing $140,000. It got relegated to the heap of other studies and reports. We have been living in artificial reality and are now in a economic crisis with failing economy and falling tax revenues, Team Garret and his crew can't seem to understand what that means to the average worker and taxpayer. One in fifteen workers in Idaho is now unemployed.

They really don't care because property taxes can't be avoided by property owners without dire consequences to their property ownership rights. Housing is imploding and the financial journals abound predicting the commercial sector will be the next real estate sector to go down in flames.

Our elected politicos need to follow the example of Governor Butch Otter and pull in their horns and stop all wasteful spending. The "ARTIFICIAL REALITY" we have been living in for the past decade has evaporated. Governor Otter seems to understand this new financial reality and has outlined a harsh new future for Idaho in his State of the State address this week.

New buildings are great. However, they are not free. Urban Renewal is once again proving itself to be an abusive mechanism to get around voters. Transparency and openness with Urban Renewal is nearly non existent. Minutes of meetings are not publish nor are they posted on the city website.

Forbes Magazine just named Boise (and by association this entire valley) one of the 25 weakest housing markets in the United States. Check out the article in the Idaho Business Review online. We need a serious attitude adjustment in our thinking about spending and tax spending now that all the growth has vanished. We are broke and the elected politicos have yet to figure this out. Mr. Otter figured this out last summer.

Last comment is the Veterans Administration building noted in the paper today will not be a "hospital". They may build a outpatient clinic at some point in the future. Don't know who got it wrong but a hospital is not the correct language.
We can all hope the current parking regulations take into account the need for an abundance of handicap parking when the VA clinic site is finally selected. Our Veterans deserve this consideration due to the above average levels of mobility impaired veterans. VA clinics and hospitals do not have nearly enough handicap parking spaces. Walkers, wheelchairs and crutches are used by this group much more than you would normally expect. Current parking schedules do not reflect this need.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

ACLU Will Not Clean for You!

THE GUARDIAN read all 20 pages of the ACLU filing against Canyon County Commishes and the County Top Cop. The meat of this starts on page 5 and ends with item number 50 in the filing.

Jail and prison overcrowding is an endemic (means everywhere) problem. Neglect, mismanagement and poor maintenance of a public asset is another matter. A thorough read of the ACLU filing against Canyon County is a clear slap at how the Commishes and Sheriff have managed our jail, as well as their responsibility to be good stewards of the physical plant and inmates in their charge. The entire jail facility, including the old jail, passed every Idaho Sheriff's Association inspection it ever had as well as monthly inspections by the incumbent Commishes under former Sheriff George Nourse.

THE GUARDIAN worked in the Dale Haile Detention facility and knows the layout and features as well as design shortcomings in the facility.

Management systems, procedures, resources of materials and staff were not issues until the recent crop of Commishes and Sheriff took office several years ago. The place was cleaned on a schedule much the same as a US Naval ship (been there and done that too).

The previous Sheriff had two full time maintenance staff people during the day and one on call for night time issues. The Supply staff in the jail kept cleaning supplies and painting issues up to date constantly. Pest control services were on a contract to provide weekly services. Toilets and showers were not allowed to go unrepaired for weeks and months at a time. Fire systems were maintained and tested regularly and fixed promptly. Fire drills were held at a minimum of annually and deputies were well trained in evacuation procedures.

The environment inside the jail was maintained at a constant temperature all four seasons. Daily inspections were made by the Assistant Jail Commander of all living units. Ventilation systems kept the jail warm in the winter and air conditioned in the summer. County maintenance staff kept filters, air handlers and controls maintained on a regular basis. The jail was never allowed to be an unclean place for inmates. A schedule based on rotating bunk assignments was established with a designated number of inmates doing the cleaning of their unit on a daily basis. Inmates were never denied access to the inmate handbook or printed rules and policies. Grievances by inmates were dealt with on a fair and consistent basis. Jail management was keenly aware of potential abuses of power at the hands of those in charge of living units.

Staffing and turnover of manpower were issues from time to time. A constant effort to promote from within and entry level hiring were dealt with as ongoing issues to resolve while providing opportunites to promote from within the department. Management issues cropped up from time to time and once defined were dealt with quickly by Sheriff Nourse via employee surveys by staff on their bosses. One such survey resulted in the termination of the jail commander and a significant number of other management staff.

If you take the time to read the ACLU filing, it is clear the Commishes and Top Copper have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities as "SERVANTS OF THE COURT" and stewards of our jail assets. Overcrowding is one issue but filth, mold, mismanagement, poor maintenance, lack of staff and their training are things they need to be held accountable for to us the taxpayers.

The ACLU filing, with the exception of overcrowding, is a punch list of things that can and should be corrected immediately (if not sooner).

Friday, January 9, 2009

County Has Wire Taps on Phones

THE GUARDIAN recently learned about employees of the Canyon Sheriff's Department getting terminated for saying things that offended Chief Deputy Gary Duelen.

Their county phones were wire tapped. Apparently, vocalizing opinions about their fearless leaders meant more than the quality and quantity of work output and attention to the details of the job. Big Brother got heavy handed in this instance and dismissed a lot of institutional knowledge, expensive training and tenure with the department. The knife went quick and deep in this instace...Et Tu Brutus!

Some years back, the county put out a notice of "no expectation of privacy in the workplace". This means they can legally tap phones, computers and even bug offices.

All of this is perfectly legal. So if you are a county employee, please be aware of this and keep your words and thoughts soft and tender as they may come back to haunt you.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Little Miss Muffet Wants 175 Foot Tuffet

The following letter was sent out to "neighbors" of Sorrento Lactalis Cheese Plant in Nampa. Apparently, the law only requires a 600 foot area be noticed of this project.
December 11, 2008

Dear Neighbor:
As we continue to grow and increase our production, we intend to construct a New Dryer
operation to better handle the whey by-product that is generated from our cheese making
process. This new addition will provide an environmentally friendly powder instead of
solid waste that requires treatment.
We are planning to construct this new dryer as an addition to our existing Whey Dryer
Facility that requires a Conditional Use Permit from Canyon County. The Conditional
Use Permit is to modify the building height limitation from a 75 foot maximum height to
175 foot as necessary to provide space for a portion of the addition to house the Dryer
and Evaporator. The majority of the addition will maintain a 30 foot building height.
In accordance with this permit application, we are required to contact all neighbors within
600 feet of our property line and host a Neighborhood Meeting that describes our need
for the Conditional Use Permit. This Neighborhood Meeting will be conducted on
January 12th at 5:00 pm and will be hosted by us at our facility located at 4912 East
Franklin Road.
We will provide appetizers, cheeses, drinks and a tour of the plant. You are not required
to attend but if you do, you will be required to sign the Attendee Sheet as required by
Canyon County. We look forward in seeing you at the meeting.

Jean Claude Bruneau
V.P. Operations

Downwinder's of this 175 foot whey dryer may be in for a big surprise as Sorrento Lactalis gets heavier into their business of curds and whey. A 175 foot tower in this area will be visually noticeable to everyone for miles.

Computers at Public Meetings

THE GUARDIAN has taken note of computer useage at public meetings by elected officials. All of this may be just fine but it certainly raises questions abou the use of text messaging, emails and exparte discussions by those on diaz while a member of the public may be tesitfying. Technology is being abused by elected officials and how do we stop this abuse.

Olympia, Washington has a battle going of with just this very issue. They will not release emails of city councilors made during public meetings. This has a familiar ring to it here in Canyon County when a FIO request was made about emails on a public computer. Public records requests were denied and it looks bad.

Busybodies and meddlers everywhere must be alert to official abuses of information technology. Unfortunately, the very technology that often helps citizens monitor the inner doings of government can also be used to shut the public out.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Jail Effort Number Four Started Today

THE GUARDIAN read with interest about the launch of new jail effort number four. We have now had three false starts at a new jail over the last three years. The Jerome property 825 bed facility on the boulevard, the 2,000 bed jail city on Hwy. 20/26, the 250 bed temporary facility on Hwy 20/26. Now they bring forward latest offering a tilt-up concrete structure with a $35 million dollar price tag for taxpayers.

The questions flying under the radar are what happens to all the drawings, engineering, and plans for the last two efforts that have cost taxpayers over a million bucks? Is all of this so much rubbish to be tossed aside. Taxpayer money has been spent to the tune of around $1million or so with CH2MHILL for the 2,000 bed jail city. Another $250K or so has been spent with yet another engineering company for the "temporary warehouse jail". Let's add to that the metal tables stolen from the jail site that amounted to $30k of taxpayer money that probably ended up in a scrap yard.

Commissioner Rule seemed very tentative in his belief about the actual passage of a jail bond when it comes up for a vote via his comments in the IPT this morning. The rationale is "everything is cheaper now" in this economy. Forget the fact that people are struggling to make ends meet and jobs are disappearing like cheap bacon in a hot frying pan. Micron, MPC and now Circle J have all eliminated jobs or gone totally out of business in this valley. No signs of fiscal restraint at 1115 Albany by our elected deciders with all this bad economic news.

They have given us a cost figure of $35 million for this bond and not a peep on the operational costs to staff maintain and operate a new jail along with vehicles and manpower to trasport inmates to and from this site.

We need answers on what will happen to all the plans and engineering we already have paid for on a new jail before we make anymore irrational financial moves.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Middleton Files for Urban Renewal Status

THE GUARDIAN learned today the city of Middleton has filed to form an Urban Renewal District. This will be yet another effort to circumvent voters to spend money none of us have or wish to spend. The papers were filed on the 23rd of December 2008 at the Canyon County Courthouse.

The Middleton Urban Renewal District will remove virtually all of downtown Middleton from the tax rolls for all taxing entities and will raise your property taxes to fund their projects. The only question is how long they think it will take to realize any increased valuations to finance their shopping list of goodies.

This is just one more effort to circumvent property taxpayers rights to vote up or down public spending by elected officials.

What We Want to See From Elected Officials

This quote comes from Judy Ferro and was in the IPT today.

"I hope in the future the majority of us will choose elected officials who are knowledgeable and competent over those who are merely likable."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Canyon County Refuses Freedom of Information Request

Canyon County Refuses Freedom of Information Request
Oopsie, he threw them away!

By Sharon Fisher, 1-03-09 (from New West Boise)

The Kuna-Melba News, a weekly paper that covers western Ada County and eastern Canyon County, is reporting that Canyon County has refused a Freedom of Information request for the messages Canyon County Commissioner Steve Rule sent out from his county email account on Dec. 2, comparing First Lady-elect Michelle Obama to a black widow spider.

“I understand from Commissioner Rule that he does not retain sent email,” the paper reported it was told. “I also consulted with the County IT Department and understand that Commissioner Rule’s sent emails are not archived by them.”

The paper reported that it had filed one FOI request on December 15, asking for a copy of all of Rule’s sent e-mails for the months of October and November. “Two days after the Dec. 15 request was referred to the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Samuel B. Laugheed sent a letter to the Kuna Melba News on Dec. 17, seeking an extension of the deadline on my request,” the paper reported. “On Dec. 29, Laugheed sent another letter, denying the request for information.”

Thinking that perhaps the email messages had been automatically deleted after 30 days, the paper re-filed the request on Dec. 29, asking for sent email from December. According to the paper, Laugheed sent a response on Dec. 31: “As previously stated in our December 29, 2008, letter responding to your request of December 15, 2008, I understand from Commissioner Rule that he does not retain sent email.”

Aside from this particular issue, it raises troubling questions about oversight of Canyon County government. Really? Canyon County commissioners are not required to save email messages they send out from their official account? And the county organization doesn’t archive them, either?

So what happens if a county commissioner sends out something patently illegal or unethical from their account? They’re off the hook by not saving it? Few other governmental organizations allow this.

Moreover, this opens Canyon County up to legal issues. The rules for electronic discovery and evidence in civil cases were changed as of Dec. 2006, and throwing up your hands and saying, “We don’t have them” is no longer taken as an excuse by judges.

Editor note: Canyon County uses Outlook as their email program. It might be interesting to know if Commissioner Rule cleaned out his "SENT" file. Outlook automatically puts a copy of all emails in this file. If so, would this be considered a violation of the FIO laws?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Circle J Trailer Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

THE GUARDIAN learned today Circle J Trailer filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on 12-30-2008. The shutdown of CIRCLE J will eliminate seventy-five jobs from the employment base in Caldwell. (You can pull the article up on the Idaho Business Review website.) This is not good news for the local economy.

Circle J has been around for more than 50 years in Caldwell. It is sad to note the passing of this Caldwell icon. We hate to see this happen to a long time Caldwell employer and the people who work there.

New Years Resolutions For Elected Officials And All Of Us

The IPT editorial board has a most excellent set of resolutions for our elected politicos for 2009. They can be found on the OPED page of today's paper.

1. Don't use your work email accounts to send out jokes that some people may find offensive.

2. Don't be packing heat when you go to the airport.

3. Don't plead guilty something you didn't do to "make it go away."

4. Don't try to sneak around the voting taxpayers when yo want to spend money on a project.

The rest of us can all get naked and stand in front of a full length mirror and come up with a decent list of things that we need to address. Add to that the usual smoking and drinking stuff and resolve to be a good role model for our kids and others.

That said, we can only hope for a better 2009 in the financial markets along with wisdom and good choices our elected politicos will need to make for the new year.

Dale Dixon of the BBB offers:

1. You didn't win anything despite what the email or letter says or how much the check sent to you says.

2. Easy money is not easy.

3. Always deal with reliable merchants and service people.

4. Safeguard your personal information like credit card, bank account, drivers license, and social security numbers.