October 26, 1995 in Nation/World

Officials, Lobbyists Get Down To Business Concerned Businesses Of North Idaho Holds Workshops On Fiscal Responsibility

By The Spokesman-Review

It has scrutinized and criticized nearly every public budget in North Idaho in the last several months, telling fire districts to skip training here and city governments to cut tax levies there.

Now North Idaho’s most powerful business lobby is holding workshops for public officials and government workers to tell them how to slice spending even more in the future. Concerned Businesses of North Idaho called Wednesday night’s effort - held at North Idaho College - a “re-engineering seminar.”

After attending so many budget hearings this year, Pat Raffee, Concerned Businesses executive director, realized that taxing districts didn’t know how to revamp the way they tax and spend. “We thought we’d help fill that gap,” Raffee said. “The goal is to have government work as efficiently as possible, therefore as cheaply as possible.”

About 75 people registered for the workshop, from high school students to Coeur d’Alene city officials, Raffee said. The featured speakers were Tom Taggart, Kootenai County Administrator, and John Haehl, chairman of the Lewis & Clark State College’s business department.

The program covered everything from suggestions for combining jobs to changing the way workers’ performance is measured. Future seminars will depend upon what people want.

While government officials don’t always agree with Concerned Businesses, they seem to welcome the help.

“We’ve got to rethink, from the bottom up, how we do business,” Taggart said. “That’s how you make huge jumps in productivity and cut the work force or keep the work force level.”

Since Kootenai County’s first encounter with Concerned Businesses a few years ago - the group raised questions about the county budget - the two sides have continued to talk and build a rapport. “They aren’t just being critical,” Taggart said, “they’ve helped us get resources and information.”

Local government organizations agree that it’s great for business to extend a helping hand, in part because citizens don’t like it when government shells out money for such training. “They want the results without the expense, said Deni Hoehne, deputy director of the Idaho Association of Cities.

“If businesses are experts at financial management and providing goods and services efficiently, why would anybody lose from government being taught those techniques?” Hoehne asked.

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Al Hassell agrees such seminars can be helpful. He also argues that the city is doing several innovative things with budgets that are overlooked - like privatizing garbage collection.

The city budget figures that Concerned Businesses advertises don’t tell the real story, he said. For one thing, if the figures for self-supporting areas such as water and sewer are pulled from the total, city spending is efficient.

This year the average Coeur d’Alene homeowner owed $296 in taxes to the city. Five years ago, that figure was $300, Hassell said. He also cautions people against simply comparing a county budget total to a city total.

For example, “the county has no streets, no street lights.”

Most people discard the notion that Concerned Businesses’ efforts will result in one-sided budgeting decisions. Like most special interest groups, “they will provide some good information, some slanted,” Hassell said. “I’ve always been able to balance that.”

State law wards off pressure from special interest groups, added Hoehne. “There are too many statutes about how city government will operate,” she said.

Then, there’s the responsibility for other citizens to be vigilant. “The services that people really want and need can’t get cut unless citizens let it happen.”

, DataTimes

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