July 14, 2007 in Idaho

Kroc Center investigation urged

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A former state lawmaker is calling for an investigation into a possible “criminal conspiracy” over how the city of Coeur d’Alene contributed money for the Salvation Army Kroc Community Center.

Former Republican state Sen. Kathy Sims, who owns a local car dealership, gave a report calling for an investigation to Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas on Thursday.

It claims the city violated state law by having a fund balance, often called a “rainy day fund,” for unanticipated expenses. From this fund, the city gave $3 million to the Coeur d’Alene Parks Foundation to prepare the 12-acre site, a former gravel pit on Ramsey Road, for construction of the Kroc Center.

The complaint alleges that the city also violated the law by spending the $3 million because it was never appropriated in the budget.

City officials shot back that Coeur d’Alene’s involvement is legal and that the complaint should have no effect on the construction of the $66 million center.

“The only conspiracy is the conspiracy of ignorance on the part of the people trying to kill the Kroc Center,” City Attorney Mike Gridley said.

No one at the city had received a copy of the complaint as of late Friday afternoon, and Gridley said neither Sims, complaint author Tom Macy nor anyone else had questioned him about what he characterized as a “complex transaction.”

Gridley said they are wrong and that Idaho law does allow the city to maintain a fund balance. He said it’s a recommended accounting practice that most cities and government entities, including schools, use.

Gridley added that the City Council approved the $3 million donation to the parks foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization, and that the council will amend the budget at the end of the fiscal year to reflect the expenditure.

Sims refused to answer questions or provide a copy of the report Friday. She hung up twice on a reporter who called her cell phone before saying she wasn’t available to comment until Saturday morning.

The report was researched and written by Macy, a Post Falls resident who has twice run for Kootenai County Commission, as a Libertarian and an Independent. Macy said he had the original concern about how the city was spending money on the Kroc Center, then joined with a local group investigating the city’s urban renewal agency to get advice on how to make his concerns public.

He said Sims volunteered to deliver the complaint to Douglas because she has the most clout of anyone in the group.

Macy didn’t provide a copy of the report Friday but outlined the arguments.

“There’s lots of detail, and it raises lots of questions that are not easy to answer,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, he hopes Douglas investigates and the city is forced to reduce property taxes by 15 percent. That’s the amount Macy alleges the city overcollects each year so there is money in the fund balance.

Douglas was on vacation Friday and didn’t immediately return messages left on his cell phone.

Salvation Army Maj. John Chamness, who is directing the Kroc project, said he isn’t concerned about the complaint or its impact. Chamness hadn’t seen the report and said he couldn’t comment on the city’s actions. But he said the two-story building featuring a swimming center, fitness facility, jogging track, 400-seat chapel and other amenities is a huge benefit for North Idaho.

“I can’t see how this could impact us at all,” he said. “We’re just going to keep pushing ahead.”

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