Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District, Friend or Foe?...

After having received a number of calls and emails regarding the stories in the Idaho Statesman regarding Mr. Brian Bandhauer's plight of the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District (NMID) wanting to take his property for "Hamburger Money", I had to better understand how this issue got so out of hand, as reported.

I contacted them on Friday to set up a meeting to ensure I had both sides of the story before determining if any action needed to be taken to help resolve perceived outstanding issues.

The NMID was very friendly and set up a meeting for me Monday morning (Dec 24th) so we could go over the issues that were reported as well as to answer any questions that I also had about the district. Daren Coon (District Secretary-Treasurer) who pretty much runs the office in Nampa for the district set up our meeting that included: Monte Janicek (elected Director for the Meridian area), Ron Becker (elected Director for the Nampa area) and John Anderson (District Water Superintendent).

We started out with the issues at hand, the printed stories within the local paper, and I asked them to tell me how we got were we currently are. They explained the situation that is well summarized in their press release below (some papers did publish "parts" of this press release):

"News Release
Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District

1503 First Street South, Nampa, Idaho 83651
Tel: (208) 466-7861 -- Fax: (208) 463-0092
Serving The Treasure Valley Since 1904

Nampa, Idaho
December 21, 2007

The following statement was issued today – Dec. 21, 2007 – by the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District.

The Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District Board of Directors has reviewed the case of Mr. Brian Bandhauer, the Meridian property owner who has protested the $4.78 in fees associated with his delinquency on District tax assessments for 2006. In order to avoid further controversy and confusion resulting from the Idaho Statesman’s reporting on this matter, the District will waive the late charges so that Mr. Bandhauer's property may be removed from the list of irrigation district tax delinquencies.

The Idaho Statesman’s inaccurate reporting and editorial opinion on this matter highlights the importance of fact checking before going to press. The truth of the matter is not as titillating as the story the Statesman chose to tell at Mr. Bandhauer’s urging.

The District does not “slap” or “take out” liens on the property of any landowner, as suggested by the Statesman. Like property taxes, irrigation district assessments are declared by Idaho statute to be liens upon the assessed real property until the taxes are paid. In the year after the assessment is levied, irrigation districts are required by Idaho statute to file with the county a list of properties that are delinquent in paying assessments. This list includes all delinquencies, not just those from the prior year.

After the District files the delinquency list, delinquent landowners have three years to “redeem” the property from the list by paying the delinquency. As with property taxes, if a landowner has not paid the delinquency, including penalties and costs, Idaho law requires that an irrigation district “must” make a tax deed in favor of the District for the property. This occurs after the property owner is provided notice of pending issuance of the tax deed, and an opportunity for hearing before the district board of directors. The board’s decision to issue a tax deed is subject to judicial review. Even at this late stage, the property owner has an opportunity to redeem the property before it is sold at auction.

The number of delinquencies within Nampa & Meridian is typically around 2,000. The vast majority of these are resolved, so that, annually, only one of the approximately 40,000 tracts of land within the District is sold at tax deed auction.

The District is not “fighting” with Mr. Bandhauer and has not “slapped” a lien on his property to grab his cheeseburger money as suggested in the Statesman editorial. Mr. Bandhauer’s property has been part of Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District since 1904. The land was recently subdivided in 2000. Delinquencies in 2001 and 2004 were all resolved by payment within a year. In fact, the title company involved in Mr. Bandhauer’s purchase of the property paid the 2004 delinquency and 2005 assessment within a week after Mr. Bandhauer purchased the property, which makes Mr. Bandhauer’s ignorance of the assessment all the more perplexing.

Just last month, in November, Mr. Bandhauer sent payment for the 2006 and 2007 assessment with a note indicating that he had discovered the mistaken address. He deducted from his payment the $4.78 in penalties and costs because he assumed the District had made the error. After investigating the situation, the District discovered that the error was in Mr. Bandhauer’s deed, and suggested that he seek reimbursement from the title company that made the error. Mr. Bandhauer’s response was that he would not call the title company over $5, and would instead contact the press.

The result is two articles and an editorial opinion that incorrectly characterize Nampa & Meridian’s actions and motives. We regret Mr. Bandhauer’s course of action, and the Statesman’s reporting on this matter. The District has received numerous disparaging and threatening emails and phone calls, none of which are warranted by this situation.

Nampa & Meridian will continue to work with landowners to resolve delinquencies, following the procedures mandated by Idaho statutes. Nampa & Meridian explains the assessment and delinquency process to landowners through its assessment notices, in newsletters and on its website – www.nmid.org. As part of its response to the Statesman’s reporting on this matter, Nampa & Meridian will review and update those notices in an effort to more effectively communicate with landowners on this issue.

The District will have no further public comment on this matter.

We discussed the current process of customer billing and collections (set by the State code) by the district, how it compares to other districts, their success as compared to other districts and the process for challenging billing. It appears that they do go above and beyond state code with regards to communicating with their customers and prior to the taking of any property deed for auction (that happens in the 3rd year of a customer not paying their bills).

In fact both Mr. Coon and Mr. Anderson related stories about how they, every year, go door to door to ensure that the 3rd year owners on the list for being behind and in line for the Taxing District taking the deed for auction, or tenants of the properties are notified face to face (this not required, but is done after the certified letter is sent as well letting folks know they are behind in their payments). There appears to be plenty of effort involved in trying to communicate with customers that are behind, but mistakes are still made and there is an excellent process in place for challenging those issues via the elected Board of Directors, one just needs to ask.

As far as the process goes, I came away with the feeling that the largest irrigation district in the State is managing their customers properly and within the law... I also learned a great deal about the irrigation district that I would encourage others to also look into.

Most Meridian residents these days live on what used to be farmland (some still is). There are well over a hundred square miles of farmland had water rights associated with those lands that were used to irrigate their fields. The owners of those lands got together in 1904 to form a taxing district where the combined water rights and costs of delivering water could be done for all the owners in the most cost effective way as possible.

In Meridian, the District takes care of providing water via canals and some pressurized systems. They provide the developers with the design criteria for setting up pressurized systems that will be compatible with the water system that NMID manages. After development, these systems are normally then turned over to NMID for management and maintenance. There are still systems in Meridian that are managed by the local home owners association where maintenance and fees are handled in a different manner. The cities of Boise and Nampa each have their own methods of managing the irrigation delivery systems and maintenance of those systems along with the billing for those services.

The district is a not for profit taxing district that puts our district tax Dollars to use in maintaining the canals, pressurized systems and providing communications to customers about their irrigation and to developers with regards to building systems to a base set of standards. I would encourage you to visit their austere offices at 1503 1st S. in Nampa to see how they are spending your Dollars and how they stretch the Dollars they do receive to provide all of us with the irrigation water we use for our yards in the summer and the farmers in the district with the water they need for their crops.

Our NMID Board of 3 Directors is elected on a staggered basis (one new Dir. is elected every year for a 3 year term). The Directors oversee the $2.8M budget that is used to operate and maintain our district's irrigation system. As you might have realized, the system is quickly becoming a system that supports a more urban environment as opposed to it's original design. Our Directors ensure that they review process and procedures so that the district can provide support to all of it's customers in the most efficient and effective way possible.

The NMID has a website, we discussed putting more information on it so that folks might be able to better understand the charter and operations of NMID and it's process and programs that it provides to all of their customers (like being eligible for opting out, giving up your lot water rights or understanding where these tax Dollars are being spent).

I walked away satisfied with the processes in place. People need to take the time to understand the obligation they assume with regards to the NMID when they buy their property and use irrigation water. Everyone has a fair system of rebuttal to deal with any issues they might come across, they just need to ask the folks in the office and follow that advice.

Had Mr. Bandhauer followed the advice of the folks in the NMID office and contacted his elected NMID Director and discussed an option to waive his charges or even discussed the issue with his title company, that made the mistake in the first place that caused the penalty of $4.78, but instead ran to the media for resolution. I'm confident that the process in place would have resolved this issue quickly, effectively and fairly...

Maybe it's good that Mr. Bandhauer and the media created the "fanfare" it did so we can all learn more about the irrigation water that is so cost effectively provided to most of our back yards for a minimal costs to us.

Take the time to call the NMID and ask them any questions you might about have about the irrigation district at 208-466-7861. You will find that Mr. Coons is a wealth of knowledge with regards to how the district works and it's history. They can also connect you with your elected NMID Board Director, tell you if your land is eligible for opting out of the irrigation program or how to opt into the program. Understand that they do have 40,000 customers from Boise to Nampa that they work hard to communicate with via their newsletter (which I hope will soon be printed on their website), letters and press releases about our delivery system.

NMID's website currently has some limited information, but I believe we will be seeing more and more information very soon.

Your thoughts?

Merry Christmas to all...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Roads and the Franklin & Eagle "Lifestyle Center"...

In early November, the Idaho Statesman printed an opinion on the development that will be happening on the NE corner of Franklin and Eagle. They seemed to have a concern regarding the developer paying for the infrastructure improvements in return for payback via lower sales taxes until his investment has been paid off. They questioned if using the recently approved STAR program that allows government and business partnerships for large infrastructure projects was a good deal for Idahoans.

I submitted an opinion piece shortly thereafter that I had coordinated with many other legislators in our valley that were aware of the new STAR legislation and supported it. This legislation, passed in our 2007 session, allows the use of developers funds to build out the infrastructure as part of their development with engineering oversight from ITD. That editorial, although verified by the paper to be valid, has never been printed in the Statesman (but it has in other local publications), so I thought I would share it with you here in the case you didn't see it in any of the other publications that printed it:

"Use of the STAR program is right for Meridian's growth

Recently there has been discussion about the proposed expansion of Eagle Road using the funding mechanism known as STAR. As a member of the Idaho State Legislature who voted for this bill, I wanted to share my thoughts about this funding mechanism, this road widening project, and the subsequent development.

As a funding mechanism, this legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 68-1-1 and the Senate by 24-10-1, is a way to bring needed new money into our road building process. The STAR legislation provides a tool to local officials who may be looking for a way to pay for a needed road improvement.

It requires substantial investment by a single entity - and does not open up coffers to every road project. Yes it does require the developer to be paid back over time. But, not unlike ACHD road projects being built in Meridian, it allows a project to get built by a public/private partnership with a developer fronting the money. This means that we all see the road improvement sooner, for less money, and before the project impacts an area using today's dollars.

Eagle Road is the most heavily traveled highway in Idaho. As North Ada County continues to develop - Eagle, Star, Meridian, and West Boise - Eagle Road will have greater demands placed on it until alternate transportation corridors like Highway 16 are built. With the time frame for Highway 16 still undetermined and the Ten Mile Interchange not scheduled to begin construction until 2009, this project will provide immediate capacity improvements to this roadway.

There are also a number of other benefits that will be a result of the Eagle Road widening and the subsequent development. Projects such as the proposed "Lifestyle Center" are designed to get vehicles off of the road. Rather than driving from store to store to store, they provide an environment where people will go to one place with multiple retailers and amenities to spend their days and evenings. This will reduce trips throughout the valley, help improve our air quality, and save fuel for those who may not wish to travel to other parts of the valley for their shopping needs.

It also brings jobs to the area: over 3,000 construction jobs and an estimated employment of 2,500. This will increase our community's tax base; it will generate sales tax and income tax - items that benefit everyone in Idaho. The property tax generated by this "Lifestyle Center" in the future will have a much larger impact than just the sales tax that is generated.

While the State will receive 40% of sales tax initially, after the funds are repaid the State will collect 100%. We must look at the long-term benefits when examining a project like this "Lifestyle Center" that has such a great return on investment for our State.

As Idahoans we are concerned about sprawl, traffic congestion, quality jobs,
and quality of life. No matter what your views are, we all know that the
property located at Eagle and Fairview would not remain undeveloped forever, with or without road improvements. The current grass fields create little tax revenue for the state. State funded transportation improvement in this area would be years away without this sort of local government and business partnership enabled by the STAR program.

At a time when transportation related matters are at the forefront of issues in the Treasure Valley and before the State Legislature, I am excited to see our efforts to provide alternative funding for transportation projects being put to good use. "

Your thoughts?...

Who's going to feed us?...

Just a quick note regarding some recent information I ran across:

Average age of farmers in America: 55 years old

1 out of 4 farmers are over the age of 65

If we don't encourage more of our next generations to take on the tough job of farming, who's going to feed the world?

Your thoughts?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Info on Studded Tire Damage to our Roads...

It's not hard to find, just Google "studded tire damage" and up will pop a number of studies regarding the damage caused to our highway system by studded tires.

One of many such reports have been done by Washington state that shows clearly the damage that's accomplished by this old technology. I have written previously on this damage after reading reported spending on studded tire costs of mitigation that estimated western states spend between $20M to $50M a year re-lining, re-covering or refurbishing our roadways. Studies from Alaska to California all come to the same conclusion: studded tires are costly to tax payers! Today, while coming back from Marsing, snapped some pictures that I knew I could compare to the study done in WA:

The above picture out of the WA study clearly shows the types of damage from studded tires vs. the damage caused by heavy trucks to asphalt roads.

The following two pictures I snapped today on I-84 between Nampa and Meridian, note any commonality?

(note, the rutted tracks don't match the truck wheels?)

(note how this Pontiac Gran Prix wheel width matches those ruts?)

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that we are paying a ton of money re-lining and re-paving our roads every year when their life cycle is being cut to shreds by our continued over use of studded tires. Some folks do need more traction, but those folks are causing a ton of damage to our roads that all the rest of us must pay for.

When we are scratching for transportation Dollars, I have to ask why we have not had a recommendation from ITD regarding either adding a highway maintenance surcharge on studded tires or even limiting the months they can be used. It's time to do something different.

There are alternatives to studded tires that cause much less road damage as well as reduce noise and air pollution (Air pollution? Where do you think all the asphalt and concrete that is worn away goes to? It becomes airborne dust...). These newer technology tires do provide equal or better traction when compared to studded tires. I've used many alternatives to studded tires and actually like them better.

Those that insist on running the little "road grinders" or need them to get around in their area, need to start paying their fair share for the road maintenance that is required due to their choices of winter tires.

Your thoughts?

Lucky or Good Planning and Excecution?

We in Meridian are a very "lucky" lot... Of course Famed basketball coach Bobby Knight defined "lucky" as 95% preparation and 5% opportunity.

I had the pleasure of doing a ride along with the Meridian Police Department this last week to better keep up with what's going on in our district.
What a great bunch of well trained and effective officers we have on our force!
Even though we have a young force, we have quite a number of very talented officers that day and night carry out their daily duties with little fan fare or notice.

It was cold Thursday evening, but it was just another normal evening for the swing shift wearing their stocking caps while arresting a gentleman that was wanted in the state of NV. These men and women commonly respond to domestic calls from lost children to husband vs. wife arguments that just needed a little mediation, to burglaries, control traffic, investigate crimes and provide critical community services.
Raining, snowing, freezing... it doesn't matter, our Meridian PD is out there patrolling, investigating and taking care of things that most of us just don't even realize exist in our little community. It's likely why we don't see much issue with crime in Meridain, these folks nip it in the bud quickly and keep the focus on it to ensure it doesn't get out of hand.

Friday, it appears they were busy with a drug bust of over 90 marijuana plants here in Meridian. Through a joint investigation between the county and our Meridian PD force, they were able to take down a rather large supplier of drugs that had sprung up in the middle of one of our neighborhoods... again, without any fan fare. I'm sure if you asked them about it, they would all just say it's just another day on the job, but probably a day just a little better than others.

We are "lucky" to have attracted such a good crew and I was "lucky" to draw Lt Tracy Basterrechea to tote me around town during his normal patrol. Tracy has been on our force for 11 years and has watched and helped Meridian grow from our sleeping little town to what it is today. He is one of many that provide not only excellent leadership, training and mentoring to other officers, but to our citizens as well when times arise. I really appreciated the opportunity to run with him and the swing shift for an evening, it was nice to be around such a great group of professionals that really act as a team.

These officers train and work hard to be prepared for whatever comes their way... Being "lucky" is not acceptable, it's that 95% preparation that is taken very seriously for that 5% opportunity to take care of the bad guys that come to our town. They work hard in making sure that you and I can safely sleep at night and the kids can play during the day.
Next time you see one of "our guys" on patrol, give them a wave of support... it's the least they deserve from us.
Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

BSU and CWI... A Legislator's take...

Were we are...

It seems we (legislators) have been on a whirlwind ramp up to the upcoming session that starts Jan 7th. Meetings scheduled across all subjects with state, federal and business to review their concerns that "might be" considered in the upcoming session. It's good for us all to attend as many as we can to gain insight on everyone's perspectives.

We had a meeting this morning with the president of BSU, Bob Kustra. The president gave us a great overview of where the funds from last session were spent along with concerns for BSU and Idaho colleges in general.

... My "take-aways"

We tend to get grants from many sources like Micron or the federal government to "cost share" or develop programs, but those grants never seem to be perpetual. We (our state) seems to readily start a number of these types of programs only to end up enduring the long term maintenance and operations costs after the grants fade away...

Don't get me wrong, we've started some fantastic programs at BSU, U of I and the ID State and as the President says, not only do our students gain a great opportunity for education, but the return on investment (ROI) for the state and community is tremendous...

We have a "market share" issue with only ~26% of our Idaho high school grads going to college, we've asked for a parsing out of where the rest of the 74% of our HS students are going...

We always have opportunities to improve things, like a better focusing the Intellectual Property (IP) regarding patents and manufacturing processes that are developed at our State Universities. We need a better statewide focus of the commercial opportunities of this IP, I believe we are "leaving money on the table" after some of these efforts or the IP just floats away.

The U of I has a non-profit foundation that manages the IP developed there, BSU doesn't have a formal program from what I left the meeting with today and I'm not aware of an ID State program to manage IP.

This IP, sometimes developed through grants from agracultural developers, companies like Micron or HP and the federal government where a formal sharing of the IP should be contractually decided as part of the grant agreement. It seems that this process is not well developed, marketed nor is consistent across our State's higher level educational institutions that are likely to develop State IP.

I have communicated with both the colleges that have programs and some grant providers, and again, I believe there is opportunity for improvement for both parties.

Instead of having a non-state manager for the commercialization of this IP, should we consider management by a single state organization? Consider the charter of the Department of Lands, where they are responsible for ensuring the use of a state asset (in this case lands) profits for the benefit of our states education.

Should we have a State IP manager for the same function? Would the Department of Lands be a good fit as an oversight organization to ensure that any financial gain from royalties or the selling of patents gets rolled back into our education system?

Most corporations these days, now have high level management teams to manage corporate IP as an "asset" of the organization and maximize it's return to the company. I believe Idaho could benefit from the formation of such a statewide oversight unit.


A surprise today came with president Kustra's discussion regarding the College of Western Idaho, our newly approved Community College system.

BSU has currently leased some floor space to CWI in the BSU western campus building and BSU will continue to positively consider future expansion requirements for CWI on the BSU western campus. The president is focused on maintaining that campus for it's intended use by those that provided the property and building to BSU.

Many of us were under the impression there would be a transfer of property that would allow CWI a step up to make lower cost community college credits available, it appears that was and is not the case.

The president indicated to us that he clearly believes that CWI will have to increase their levy rate in order to manage the infrastructure required to get the community college going and for ongoing maintenance and build out of that infrastructure.

I believe the voters of Ada and Canyon counties expected that there would be a transfer/sharing of State assets and curriculum from BSU to CWI while keeping the community college levy rates low in order to make more affordable classes available in the Treasure Valley.

It's important that we all work towards that end to meet those voter's expectations.

A Good Brief...

For the short time scheduled and the number of legislators attending, president Kustra and his team put on a very good brief of the state of BSU and issues they are focused on resolving. It's great to see the concentration on our ability to better educate our students in math and science.

As a citizen of Idaho, I take comfort in the president's concern and aggressive actions to correct past issues and attention to issues on the horizon...

We seem to have so many of these types of meetings, it was nice to get down to the details quickly, review the data and have the opportunity to ask questions and ask for more detailed information off-line.

Your thoughts?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tidbits... things that make you say "hhhhmmmm..."

We get a ton of emails, letters, magazines and such and I try to read as much as I can while still keeping up with my work and my "honey-do" lists around home.

Recently, I ran across some information that I thought was very interesting, some puzzling and some that makes you want to just wonder how we got were we are today:

1. An article in the Dec issue of State Legislatures regarding smoking rates. "Although smoking rates have declined over the last several years, 20% of Americans still smoke. And smoking is still the leading cause of premature death in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated costs of smoking-related medical expenses and loss of productivity exceed $167 Billion annually. The 10 states with the lowest rates of adult smoking are: Utah (9.8%, California (14.9%), Idaho (16.8%), Connecticut (17%), Washington (17.1%), Hawaii (17.5%), Maryland (17.7%), Massachusetts (17.8%), Colorado (17.9%) and Texas (17.9%)."

Good for Idaho! Ranked #3 in the nation for the lowest number of smokers. People know it's bad for them, why do they continue to put themselves at risk of being a statistic of "premature death in America"?

2. A very interesting article in the University of Idaho's College of Agricultural & Live Sciences Winter 2008 Programs & People magazine (you might want to consider the title of the magazine as an article in itself!). This article covered an issue that too many Idahoans are just not aware enough of, Poverty in Idaho. The U of I has some excellent programs helping at risk kids and families to "make it" out there on their own. From Bovill to Boise, they have their hands reaching out to help needy families through programs like "Horizons" managed by the UI Extension service.

In Idaho, the poverty rate is determined to be a gross income of $26,856 per year for a family of 4 (130% of the established poverty level). 2004 figures show that Shoshone county has some of the highest poverty rates at 16.3%, Madison at 15.6%, Owyhee at 15.4%, Clark at 15.1% and Cassia county at 14.7% of the population. Ada county has a 9.1% poverty rate or 30,644 people are eligible for assistance.

Good for U of I for stepping up and taking some very positive steps to help out families in need. We all need to work to break the cycle of poverty and it's good to see the state stepping up here.

3. The Department of Health and Welfare's 2007 budget (counting State and Federal Dollars) was in the range of $2.9 Billion (yes that's more than the State's revenue). The population of Idaho being in the generous range of 1.4 million people, that comes to a spending rate of ~ $2070 per man, woman and child in our state. When you read above that the U of I is spending education bandwidth/funds on it's programs as well, one has to ask what is the total cost we are spending to take care of the less fortunate and are we getting our money's worth?

... things that make you say "hhhmmmmmm......."
Your thoughts?