Nation/World


Property Taxes Key In Kootenai County Race 3 Gop Candidates For Commissioner Offer Slow, Fast, Techno Approaches To Reform

A three-way primary race for Kootenai County commissioner plumbs the depths of a local property tax revolt.

The May 28 Republican race pits incumbent Bob Macdonald against Ron Rankin, author of a 1 percent tax cap initiative, and Reed Simpson, a computer consultant who founded the East Side Fire District.

The soft-spoken Macdonald, 56, a near incarnation of incremental reform, wants to continue small, careful steps toward increased efficiency. He’s proud of his record in the $40,788-a-year job.

Rankin, 67, a populist leader of enraged homeowners, demands more radical change and calls himself an “ombudsman” for the people.

He sees Macdonald as a yes man for two fellow Republican commissioners.

Simpson, 54, an Internet buff, seeks to slash unneeded county functions. He wants to use his computer to maintain a running dialogue with voters.

It’s the “calm approach” vs. “what we want to hear” vs. “technology,” said Katie Brodie, a leading Republican and Idaho Forest Industries employee.

“It’s going to be a fun race to watch,” she said.

The winner faces environmentalist-attorney Chuck Sheroke, a Democrat, in the November election.

“If Rankin wins, he’ll be pounding his chest and calling himself ‘One Percent Man,”’ Sheroke said. “I don’t know what Bob Macdonald will be saying because I can’t point to a thing he’s done.”

Macdonald served two terms as a Coeur d’Alene city councilman before being elected county commissioner in 1990, when the one-time beer and wine distributor and his father-in-law, Don LaVoie, sold their business.

Under his watch, he said, the county has consolidated its purchasing, improved cooperation between Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls and started building a $4 million courthouse office building. Last fall, commissioners cut spending in the county’s $33 million budget by more than $300,000.

“I think we’re all better off today than we were five and a half years ago,” Macdonald said.

In coming years, Macdonald said he wants more coordination between cities and the county - perhaps even a joint building and planning department with the county, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.

He also wants user fees to cut down reliance on property taxes. He urged commissioners and City Council members to “find a project to support” so they can put an optional sales tax proposal on the ballot by November.

Voters would have to approve the additional tax, with at least 50 percent of the revenue going toward property tax relief.

Rankin has been on the forefront of the push for property tax reform, dogging commissioners and City Council members during years of budget hearings. In 1992, he got an initiative on the ballot calling for a 1 percent cap on property taxes. It failed.

Rankin attributes the failure to a well-funded campaign against the cap. Opponents used “scare tactics,” he said. The next year, he couldn’t even gather enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Rankin also led more than 900 residents last year who appealed their property tax assessments, encouraging them to take their fight to commissioners.

“Elected people always end up representing government to the people,” Rankin said. “I want to be an ombudsman, representing the people to the government.”

He wants to end the county’s “tax-supported ambulance monopoly” and its practice of hiring lobbyists to represent county positions before the Legislature. County residents, he said, should be allowed to vote on whether their areas should be annexed by cities.

Rankin takes issue with much of what Macdonald says.

While the county budget shrank last year, it ballooned steadily in previous years when Macdonald was in office, he said. He said Macdonald should not be “looking for a way to spend more money” with an optional sales tax.

“That just shows how out of touch he is,” Rankin said, adding that Macdonald is not known for speaking up. “Sometimes silence is golden and sometimes it’s toxic.”

Macdonald, however, argues he and the commissioners don’t always agree.

“We have three people with different philosophies in there now,” Macdonald said. “We just know how to cooperate.”

But Brodie maintains Rankin’s tax-cutting ideas are dangerous.

“I think we all like the sound of Rankin,” she said. “But if the answers were as easy as he makes them sound, it would have happened a long time ago.”

Simpson, a former Ross Perot campaign representative and Harrison-based consultant, is best known as a founder of the East Side Fire District in 1992. Located on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, the district took an unusual approach: It only annexes residents voluntarily.

While it started with a mere dozen landowners, an additional 1,400 since have joined. The annual budget is about $70,000.

“It’s the only taxing district where 100 percent of the members asked to be taxed,” he said. “If you tell taxpayers what’s going on, they’re smart enough to understand.”

Simpson since has gained notoriety for a computerized “Town Hall Meeting,” where he sent e-mail to thousands of Inland Northwest residents seeking answers to a political questionnaire. That led to a feud between Simpson and a local Internet provider, who asked police to investigate how Simpson came upon the e-mail addresses.

The Internet provider claimed the addresses were stolen, a charge Simpson emphatically denies.

Simpson would like to see the county privatize the airport and other functions. He supports commissioners’ efforts to change the county’s health coverage to make it cheaper - despite the grief they took.

“You sometimes get into business accidentally,” he said. “But we should be stopping to say, ‘Are we any good at it?”’

Like Rankin, he maintains the county shouldn’t be looking for ways to spend an optional sales tax.

“My position is 100 percent should go to tax relief,” Simpson said. “You don’t think up lists of projects.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos

MEMO: These 3 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. BOB MACDONALD Age: 56 Resume: Incumbent vying for third term … former two-term Coeur d’Alene City Councilman … former manager of wholesale beer and wine distributorship … ski patroller at Silver Mountain … Personal: Married, children Issues: cooperation among local governments … establish user fees instead of taxes … continue efforts to consolidate some county and city functions … county and cities should look for a worthy project this year to spend optional sales tax money on.

2. RON RANKIN Age: 67 Resume: president, Kootenai County Property Owners Association … author, One Percent Initiative … former independent candidate for governor … one-time director of California Republican Assembly … former radio commentator, reporter. Personal: married, 20 grandchildren. Issues: cut property taxes … dramatically cut spending … county shouldn’t hire lobbyists … county needs “ombudsman” … says consolidation of taxing districts hurts some rural residents.

3. REED SIMPSON Age: 54 Resume: computer consultant … former corporate long-range planner … founder of East Side Fire District … former United We Stand representative … Coeur d’Alene Rotary member … master’s in business from California State Polytechnic. Personal: Married, one son, one grandson. Issues: look for unnecessary county functions to eliminate … privatize county airport … 100 percent of money from optional sales should go to property tax relief … facilitate, don’t force, consolidation of taxing districts.

These 3 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. BOB MACDONALD Age: 56 Resume: Incumbent vying for third term … former two-term Coeur d’Alene City Councilman … former manager of wholesale beer and wine distributorship … ski patroller at Silver Mountain … Personal: Married, children Issues: cooperation among local governments … establish user fees instead of taxes … continue efforts to consolidate some county and city functions … county and cities should look for a worthy project this year to spend optional sales tax money on.

2. RON RANKIN Age: 67 Resume: president, Kootenai County Property Owners Association … author, One Percent Initiative … former independent candidate for governor … one-time director of California Republican Assembly … former radio commentator, reporter. Personal: married, 20 grandchildren. Issues: cut property taxes … dramatically cut spending … county shouldn’t hire lobbyists … county needs “ombudsman” … says consolidation of taxing districts hurts some rural residents.

3. REED SIMPSON Age: 54 Resume: computer consultant … former corporate long-range planner … founder of East Side Fire District … former United We Stand representative … Coeur d’Alene Rotary member … master’s in business from California State Polytechnic. Personal: Married, one son, one grandson. Issues: look for unnecessary county functions to eliminate … privatize county airport … 100 percent of money from optional sales should go to property tax relief … facilitate, don’t force, consolidation of taxing districts.



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