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Stretching its services, dollars

by Tom Hasslinger
| December 12, 2010 8:00 PM

Editor's note: You can't put a price tag on quality of life in any given city, but you can do some simple math and figure out about what each city spends on its residents.

The Press offers an informal but, we hope, interesting series that looks at the budgets of Kootenai County cities and determines how those budgets translate into per-resident spending. We also offer perspectives from people who live in these communities about how much bang they believe they get for their municipal-targeted buck.

The number of services vary by city. For instance, Coeur d'Alene is the only local city that has its own fire department. Also, home values vary by city, so differing levy rates translates into varying funds for the cities per home. Such factors should be considered with the numbers.

COEUR d'ALENE - The city of Coeur d'Alene boasts the biggest population in North Idaho. With that goes the largest municipal budget in the region.

It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that the city offers the most service departments for its residents.

So what does it cost per head for providing those services?

Crunching city hall numbers, the city is planning to spend $1,617.87 per citizen in its fiscal year 2011 budget.

That breaks down to $4.43 per citizen per day.

"Any more of that and it's what, a cup of coffee?" City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said on the costs. "That sounds like a really good buy. I can't think of any other way to put it."

Unlike smaller neighboring communities, Coeur d'Alene has its own police and fire departments - pivotal parts of public safety - and the two most expensive departments to run.

"I like the quote that public safety was the reason municipalities were started," said Troy Tymesen, finance director.

The city is planning to spend $9.3 million on the police department, which has 90 positions and has received 33,392 calls for service so far in 2010. Its fire department, with 57 on staff, is set to spend $7.1 million. Coeur d'Alene is the only city in Kootenai County with its own fire department.

Then there's the street department, in charge of 253 lane miles in Coeur d'Alene, which is expected to spend $2 million.

The city has 16 service departments, with 352 employees. But Gabriel said that with around 150 volunteers with 750 years of experience, and partnerships with urban renewal, educational institutes and the Coeur chamber, the city stretches its services and dollars even farther.

"I think leveraging that opportunity with one paid staff person as a liaison is a great investment," she said.

Using numbers from the city's building department, Coeur d'Alene's population is estimated to be 46,606 as of Jan 1. This fiscal year it anticipates spending $75,402,463. That total comes from adding the recently approved $489,000 in rainy day funds to be spent on energy-efficient projects, while subtracting roughly $3 million in fiduciary funds, or funds that the city holds for other agencies and doesn't spend, from the original $77 million budget.

The city employs 352 full time positions, and that breaks down to 132 citizens per employee.

"I think, other than having to give raises, yeah, it's been efficient," said Councilman Woody McEvers, referring to the 1 percent COLA raise employees received this year. "I think we're pretty good at providing services and efficiency. All in all I'm proud of being there and proud of the staff."

And what about property taxes?

Those monies go to the city's general fund, which largely pays for employees. That fund this year, with the $1.2 million library fund, is $30,410,351. Divided among the population, it breaks down to spending $652 per person.

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