Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Growth fuels Rathdrum council forum

Staff Writer | October 16, 2021 1:00 AM

RATHDRUM — Six candidates for the Rathdrum City Council shared their thoughts on growth and transportation during a forum Thursday night at Lakeland High School.

Incumbent Darrell Rickard is being challenged for his four-year seat by Neil Oliver and Yevgeniy Pinchuk, while Kurt Schwab, Michael Fox and John Hodgkins are facing off for the four-year seat vacated by Paula Laws.

About 30 people attended the hourlong, low-key forum put on by the Rathdrum Chamber of Commerce. It did not include a time for audience questions.

Each candidate received 5 minutes to talk about themselves and why they were running, and outline their views on the area’s growth and transportation challenges.

Michael Fox is a 21-year resident of Rathdrum and has a degree in business administration. He is a retired electric cooperative manager.

He describes himself as a fiscal conservative who believes in less government and lower taxes. He supports responsible growth.

“I’m not anti-growth,” Fox said.

He said growth costs should be borne by developers, not existing residents.

“People should not have to pay. It was imposed on them,” Fox said.

He also spoke of the need for green space and pocket parks.

“We’re not doing that,” Fox said.

Rising traffic on Highway 41 and overcrowded schools should be addressed, along with the sewer system that’s reaching capacity, Fox said.

“Help me change this by slowing down growth, assessing developers and avoiding annexation,” he wrote in a letter to residents.

John Hodgkins was born in California, moved to Sandpoint, then to Eugene, Ore., and eventually to Rathdrum. He said he watched Eugene go from a “somewhat reasonable city” to one that was completely unreasonable.”

“I witnessed firsthand what can happen when bad policy is at the helm,” he said.

He doesn’t want that to happen in Rathdrum.

“We just love everything about the small town,” Hodgkins said.

He said Rathdrum “desperately” needs a voice of the people on the council. Out of about 100 people he spoke to about this subject, he said most don’t feel they’re being heard.
 Hodgkins vowed to communicate with everyone.

He fears residents will be left holding the bag for the costs to resolve the area’s growth challenges.

“What do the people in Rathdrum want? What they really want is to just live their lives,” he said. “They don’t really want to have these conversations.”

He said Rathdrum must be careful in what it allows to be built, and warned against “cookie-cutter development” and “giant apartment complexes.”

He said people on fixed incomes and those who can’t afford rising property taxes must be considered.

“Who’s speaking for those people? I think that should be me,” he said.

Kurt Schwab is an attorney.

“I am a conservative person, a classic conservative person,” he said.

He said growth “is a wonderful problem to have” because it means businesses are growing, too.

“If you want a healthy city you must have healthy businesses,” he said.

As for why he was running for council, Schwab pointed to his wife and kids seated in the auditorium. He said he wanted his children to be able to return to Rathdrum and live there.

“For that to happen, we need conservative policies,” Schwab said.

He said while the city can influence growth via zoning laws, it must also avoid overextending its reach. You don’t want government to infringe on property rights, Schwab said.

“The second any person talks about government being able to control the economy, that’s a bad thing,” he said.

“Do you want the government to have the power to shut down people’s property rights,” Schwab asked.

Darrell Rickard and his wife have called Rathdrum home for 30 years.

“I love the city so much,” he said. “I think I can continue to do a good job.”

He served six years on Planning and Zoning before being appointed to serve two years on the council, and then was elected to a four-year term. He was a volunteer firefighter and EMT for Rathdrum Rural Fire District and is now the regional director of the Community Action Partnership food bank.

He said his experience matters.

“I get to see all walks of life and it’s opened up my eyes a lot,” he said

Rickard said he believed the city was doing well in handling transportation and more people moving in, and has a strong infrastructure.

“We could not build another house in Rathdrum and still have traffic,” he said.

The city must continue to attract businesses and industries that offer good-paying jobs so people can live in the area.

“In order to grow industry, we’re going to have to grow some houses,” he said.

He said he believes in personal property rights and said all people are welcome to move there.

Rickard said he would support legislation that would impose impact fees to help deal with the strains of growth.

Rickard said hearing other candidates say the city doesn’t listen to people was frustrating, because he does listen.

“This city really does take care of you,” he said.

Yevgeniy Pinchuk, born in Siberia, Russia, has lived in five countries. He said he has always been politically active and well understands that growth is important.

“No one wants to see their town die,” Pinchuk said.

But it must be controlled growth.

“If you grow faster than the natural rate, you’re going to have issues," he said.

He said he decided to run for office because he attended a town hall earlier this year and “it did not seem like the city council cared about what the citizens wanted."

And it seemed those who support limited growth were often overruled, Pinchuk said.

The attitude of “it can’t be done, our hands are tied, we’ll kick the can down the road," is what motivated him to get involved.

“It’s just this feeling that our voices are falling on deaf ears is what really motivated me to run,” Pinchuk.

He believes he will be a voice for reasonable, planned growth and supports property rights.

Neal Oliver has been a Rathdrum resident since 1990 and served six years on Planning and Zoning. He said he offers proven conservative leadership.

“I love North Idaho,” he said.

Oliver offered some key points, including moving toward single-family residences with possible larger lot sizes; work on getting more small, medium and large companies to grow in Rathdrum; taking a serious look at future annexation of land and new housing proposals; and keep Rathdrum family friendly

He said he believes foremost “in individual liberty with responsibility.”

Rathdrum hasn’t done a great job in the past in planning for increased traffic so it must be sure highways 41 and 53 have sustainable futures, he said. The city must be prepared for continued growth as more people will come.

“We have to think about these things,” he said.

Oliver said he will work with other elected leaders, residents and state leaders to resolve issues that arise.

“I’m not anti-growth. I’m just for reasonable growth,” he said.

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