Council approves broadband, hears presentation on land swap, business grant funding

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | October 22, 2020 1:00 AM

City Council members moved unanimously to approve an agreement for a broadband grant with the Department of Commerce, renew insurance benefits for city employees, and approve the declared property value for a proposed land swap on City Beach at a meeting Wednesday.

The broadband agreement the council approved awards the city of Sandpoint with $277,750 to install fiber conduit on the south side of Bridge Street and the east side of First Avenue, according to the information provided in the council agenda. This will include WiFi to the Community Hall with free public access.

Councilmembers also heard from City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton concerning the proposed land swap on City Beach.

The move Wednesday was only to approve the assessed property value, which was listed as $2,066,000 for the city’s property, and $2,090,000 for the second owned by the Allen G. Cox Family LLC. There will be a public hearing concerning the land swap itself on Nov. 18.

However, Stapleton did address some initial questions that had arisen since the land swap was proposed.

Some questions had been raised about public access to the grassy area at City Beach should the land swap occur, Stapleton said, This area would continue to be public access.

“The Cox family has committed to city staff that would remain a grassy area open to the public,” she said. “The intended use isn’t any different other than the extension of the hotel.”

The plan also envisions a new boat launch and parking lot on the west end of City Beach Park where the RV Park owned by the Cox family currently exists, according to documents provided in the presentation.

There were also some questions, Stapleton said, concerning whether it would be possible to make the launch deep enough for sailboats and whether there would be an adequate turn radius. Neither of these are expected to cause problems, she said.

The council also unanimously approved the proposed renewal of the city’s insurance benefits program for employees.

The city offers employees three different plan options, Stapleton said. This year the city was able to negotiate some added benefits including hearing aids, and an increase in nutritional counseling.

The health plan would have a 10% reduction in premiums due to a decrease in utilization, she said.

The costs for dental coverage increased because of higher utilization, which for the first time included orthodonture. However, Stapleton said, the city is expected to save money overall.

“If everyone were to stay on the same [health] plan,” she said, “our total savings, as a result, would be $88,000.”

The council also heard from Andrea Marcoccio, executive director of BCEDC — a group that led efforts for a recovery fund for businesses impacted by COVID-19 this spring. At the time, the city contributed $10,000, the philanthropy foundation Innovia contributed a similar amount, and the county contributed $5,000, she said.

BCEDC is now planning a second round of relief with $50,000 in funding, which includes money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. This is in anticipation of more challenges for local businesses as COVID-19 cases have begun to climb again, Marcoccio said.

Businesses will be able to start applying for that aid today, she said.

During the first wave of relief funding, the group helped 19 local businesses. The biggest area the group helped, she said, was with providing like e-commerce support for brick and mortar stores that previously did not have online ordering.

“That’s great,” Marcoccio said, “because these modifications will last long after COVID.”

BCEDC also provided financial and grant support, COVID-19 compliance assistance and marketing and advertising assistance.

Justin Dick, owner of Trinity at City Beach and co-owner of Jalapeños, praised the organization’s work to help small businesses. Trinity did not end up needing funding, he said, but Jalapeños used the program to help with state COVID-19 guidance and signage.

“Andrea even touched base with me when she realized we hadn’t put in the application,” he said. “She personally called me up and let me know about the program … so a big kudos to them.”

In addition, the council also heard reports from Panhandle Health and the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation at its meeting Wednesday.

Don Duffy, public health services administrator for Panhandle Health, said Bonner is the only county in the district that has seen COVID-19 cases go down.

“The cases have increased dramatically. We’re exceeding the numbers we saw in late July and August,” he said.

“Bonner in yellow, but the district as a whole in red,” he said.

He also noted that health officials were pleased to see significantly fewer COVID-19 cases in the Lake Pend Orielle School district than other areas, with 12 cases as of Oct. 15.

Despite Bonner County having fewer cases relative to the rest of the district, other counties increasing rates are pushing the limits of some health care resources, he said.

Previously the district was averaging 30-40 cases a day, Duffy said, but now the past seven days have averaged 111 cases per day.

Most concerning, Duffy said, is hospital capacity. According to a letter from a Kootenai Health pulmonologist, which Duffy read at the meeting, the overall hospital census for hospital patients needing medical or surgical care is 99% full.

Because Spokane hospitals are also full, Kootenai Health is looking at sending patients to Seattle, — but those hospitals also have limited capacity, he said.

While working with Panhandle Health, Stapleton said, Parks and Recreation has been working to reopen some recreational programming. War Memorial Field is now also at just under 50% capacity.

In her updates, Stapleton also noted that the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office filed a notice of appeal for the case concerning the banning of fireworks.

There will be a court hearing, she said, which will continue regardless of the appeal. After that, there should be a decision on the court fees.

The council also heard a report by Matt Lawrence, owner of Aquatic Weed Solutions, on on the diver assisted suction harvesting program for the removal of invasive species including Flowering Rush, Curly Leaf Pondweed and Eurasian Watermilfoil from Windbag Marina, swim areas at City Beach, and the War Memorial Field boat launch.

Completely eradicating the weeds is not possible, Lawrence said, but the best solution is to “mow the lawn” to keep the problem from getting worse.

“It’s a management battle,” he said. “We’re never going to eradicate it because it’s coming downstream.”