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Addressing economy with cuts, energy efficiency

| December 13, 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 translate into varying funds for the cities per home. Such factors should be considered with the numbers.

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff writer

POST FALLS - In the past two years, Post Falls has eliminated nine positions, frozen salaries and restructured from eight departments to four to meet its budget during the recession.

The city's potential total expenses for this fiscal year are expected to be about $29.6 million. With a population of about 27,000, that means the municipality is spending about $1,096 per citizen.

"The overall number of management personnel has been reduced (in the restructure), saving us money, and it also has allowed us to concentrate on amalgamating services in departments that they make sense to be within," said Eric Keck, city administrator.

Cities in Kootenai County vary in how many services they provide, so the budget amount spent per capita will also vary. Post Falls offers all services, except for a fire department, which is handled by Kootenai County Fire and Rescue, and library, which is now part of the Kootenai-Shoshone consolidated district.

The city's current general fund budget is $16.7 million.

The city has 146 full-time employees and 246 part-time and seasonal workers. There's 185 residents per full-time city employee.

To gather citizen input on services offered and overall quality of life, the city had a survey done by the National Research Center and the International City/County Management Association.

A total of 1,200 random households were surveyed and 429 responses were received.

Areas that received high marks included the library, which became part of the district last month, parks and recreation programs, public safety, affordable housing, city employees and quality of life.

Citizens, in the survey, believed street maintenance, ordinance enforcement and planning and zoning matters could be improved. City officials admit streets are an area that will continue to need attention in future budgets.

"This (survey) feedback is now being used in the current fiscal year budget to bolster those areas that are weak and maintain those areas that are enjoyed by the residents," Keck said.

Keck said the decision to freeze salaries was done in light of the plight of the number of local residents unemployed.

"Our employees understand this and have been supportive of this even in light of the fact that many surrounding jurisdictions have continued to provide additional pay and benefits to their employees," Keck said. "This is something that we will have to address when the economy does improve (to maintain competitive salaries)."

Keck said the city has also made strides with energy efficiency programs.

"We have retrofitted lighting in several facilities to be more energy efficient," he said. "We have implemented LED lighting at the City Hall and will soon be doing so at the police department and with some of our outdoor lighting in our parks. We have put in higher efficiency pumps and mixing equipment at the water reclamation plant. We will soon be implementing power factor correction equipment at the City Hall on the demand side of our power system to help save electricity."

Keck said the city needs to continue to look at ways to create a better environment for employment.

"While we cannot create jobs, we still need to see if we can better create a regulatory climate that will attract new employers to the area," he said. "This will be a priority for us this next year even though it is a difficult topic to tackle."

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