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Rathdrum working during recession

by Brian Walker
| December 15, 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.

RATHDRUM - Rathdrum has reduced its city staff by three full-time positions over the past two years to tighten its belt during the recession.

The cutback gives the city 35 employees.

The city's total expenditures for the current fiscal year are expected to be about $6 million. With an estimated population of 7,500, the city is spending about $800 per resident for the year.

"We have been planning for the future and, while there are challenges with funding, we believe that we have positioned ourselves well for the future," city administrator Brett Boyer said.

Rathdrum has its own police, public works, parks and recreation departments and administration.

The general fund budget for this year is $3.5 million.

Rathdrum has 35 full-time employees and five summer positions. There are 214 residents per full-time city employee.

To also lower its costs, the city has installed test LED lighting at City Hall and on several street lights, a move that's expected to eventually save 50 to 75 percent in electrical costs, Boyer said.

Boyer said he believes the city has provided more bang for the buck to its citizens by being in a financial position last year and this year to bid and do road and park projects while prices are low for asphalt and concrete and contractors are hungry.

"We have been able to do substantial overlays and pave the roads in our cemetery doing more because prices are down," Boyer said. "I believe our city has been exceptional at keeping up on maintenance of our roads and pathways. We have actually done more overlays and road patching in the last two summers while prices are down more than previous years."

The city purchased the dura-patcher machine that has allowed public works to efficiently fix potholes.

Boyer said the city has done more in-house engineering recently to cut costs. The city also used its own labor to install 11 new benches in town.

It has purchased used vehicles with low miles instead of buying new cars.

New technology has been another way to cut labor costs.

Boyer said the city bought software for online pay of water and sewer bills, saving staff time and making it more convenient for customers. It will soon offer online signups and payment for parks and recreation programs.

With police grants and money received during traffic emphasis patrols, it purchased handheld ticket units for efficiency.

The city continues to install automatic read meters for its water system.

"Much of the city is on the automatic reads and we are converting the remaining 400 or so meters," Boyer said.

Even with ways to cut back, visible change is still occurring in Rathdrum.

With Majestic Park, a 12-acre site near the water tower on the Rathdrum Prairie, the city is keeping pace with its park level of service of 5 acres per 1,000 residents.

"We are building the park in phases in order to get started and provide a new park but to do so fiscally responsibly," Boyer said.

The city has completed a water and sewer master plan that calls for some projects.

"We have applied for a grant to help with our sewer lift station and are hopeful that will help us move forward," Boyer said.

The city will boast new educational venues in the Science, Technology and Research (STAR) youth center and the Kootenai Technical Education Campus (KTEC) involving the three local school districts.

Affordable housing, the central location, a historical presence that includes the renovated county jail and recreation opportunities on Rathdrum Mountain and on pathways in town make the city a vibrant place, Boyer said.

"Rathdrum is on the move and we look forward to opportunities and challenges to make this area an even better place to live," he said.

Some citizens like Rathdrum changes

Business growth helps town with historical roots, some say

RATHDRUM - Dave Mayfield has seen a lot of change in Rathdrum over the past decade.

And most of it has been good.

"We have several good restaurants, and we didn't when I first moved here," Mayfield said recently while getting a trim at a barber shop on Highway 53.

Even though the city has grown in recent years, Mayfield said there's still a small-town feel.

"I like the traffic - there isn't any," he said.

Mayfield said the renovations to the downtown area have been another nice change.

"It really perked things up," he said.

Residents interviewed differed on whether the recent intersection project along Highway 41 at Wright Street has been for the better, but it's one of the newer talks of the town.

"The new intersection has helped a lot," Mayfield said. "I think it's been a real improvement."

Myron Cropp, who was having breakfast down the street at Granny's Pantry, disagreed.

"They're better off with what they had before," Cropp said. "They never should have done that project. There's bad visibility on that corner."

But Cropp said Rathdrum remains a good place to live overall.

"You don't see any fighting or killing going on, and nobody gets in anyone's face," Cropp said. "It's friendly, but it's almost like a closed community."

Cropp said the railroad used to be more of an integral part of Rathdrum, transporting people from the depot to Spokane. Freight trains now roll through town.

Because freight train whistles used to be a nuisance, some residents supported the city's project to improve the intersection at Mill Street, the city's lone at-grade railroad crossing. The safety improvements eliminate the need for a whistle.

"It finally stopped honking," said Camille Lang, a waitress at Granny's. "It'd wake me up three times at night."

Lang said she's disturbed at the number of teens who are not in school during the day.

"And these aren't home-schooled kids," she said.

Dennis Burton said he believes the quality of life could be improved, especially for seniors, if there was more public transportation available in town.

All of those interviewed were generally pleased with city services and believe their taxpayer dollars are being well-spent.

"The City Council has a hard time making up its mind, but they're doing the best they can," Cropp said. "It does seem like the city could do a better job of letting the residents know what's going on."

Cropp said after years of seemingly little or no change around Rathdrum, the former county seat, there have been a lot of projects in recent years.

"Nothing was done for 30 years," he said. "Now all of a sudden there's a lot. It's almost like they're on a time crunch to get projects done."

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