Adding more police staff and spending more to repave streets top the Coeur d’Alene City Council’s list of funding priorities for the coming year.
Council members and the mayor spent more than four hours Thursday night casting anonymous votes to show what they think is most important. The city will take the list and use it to flesh out a budget.
Not every program or request for new employees will be funded. But the annual exercise does help clarify for the city staff the relative importance of city services supported by the general fund, Deputy City Administrator Jon Ingalls said.
“It gives us a clear set of what matters in the world,” Ingalls said. “Isn’t that what we all want from our bosses?”
The city likely won’t have a draft budget proposal ready until this summer, and a public hearing will be scheduled for September.
When the votes were locked into a computer and tallied, the street and police departments rose to the top. Yet those departments don’t necessarily overshadow other concerns, such as helping working residents afford homes or providing animal control.
The general fund, consisting of tax dollars, pays for basic services such as fire and police protection, streets and parks. Those things normally rise to the top of the priority list.
Six of the seven voting members ranked as their highest priority more funding – perhaps up to $20,000 – to maintain existing streets with new pavement. One member ranked it as a medium priority.
The city has more streets to maintain because of dramatic growth. Since 2004, the city has had 36 annexations that include nearly 23 miles of streets, according to a report from the Street Department.
Six votes went to a proposal to make the Police Department’s part-time administrative secretary in investigations a full-time position and to hire a part-time records clerk. One member ranked it as a low priority, making the request the second highest vote-getter.
Police Chief Wendy Carpenter wrote that the city’s growth has escalated the amount of paperwork in the department.
The third-highest-ranking proposal was for two additional police officers and civilian report-taker.
“A lot of it is driven by need,” Councilman Al Hassell said. “When we see the population growing as it has been, it takes more police.”
Ranking No. 4 was another proposal by the Street Department, for two additional heavy equipment operators – the people who drive snowplows and street cleaners.
Also ranking in the top 10 were requests to update the city’s zoning and subdivision laws, to hire three additional firefighters, and directing staff to apply to become designated as a federal Housing and Urban Development entitlement city.
The HUD designation would give the city a steady flow of federal money to spend on specific housing needs and on executing many of the recommendations in a recent housing study. For months, city officials have said that affordable and work force housing solutions would top the priority list. Yet it ranked No. 10.
Mayor Sandi Bloem said that doesn’t lessen the importance, it just means the city likely won’t have to spend a lot of general fund dollars to become an entitlement city.
And once Coeur d’Alene receives the federal designation, it could use up to 20 percent of the money to hire a person to oversee the program and perhaps establish a housing commission.
Bloem said the city hopes to have its designation by January. That would make the city eligible for about $300,000 a year.
Another goal is to continue to try to secure public access to the waterfront.
“We’ve heard that from the community all along, and it continues to be a high priority of council,” the mayor said.
Farther down the list, the council ranked implementing the park’s master plan recently finished by a consultant. In the park surveys, residents ranked a dog park as a top need.
Funding of another animal control officer and an animal shelter also were lower on the wish list. Coeur d’Alene recently severed its contract with a private firm that had provided those services.
Bloem said the city has no choice but find a solution to the animal control problem. Post Falls has agreed to house Coeur d’Alene’s stray and lost dogs at its shelter, but only for six months.
“We have to make a decision soon,” she said.