Thomas C. Eddy
Years of residence in Sandpoint and Bonner County: 8 year resident
Marital status/family: Married with two children
B.A. English, The Colorado College
Landscape Supervisor, Idagon Homes, LLC
Snow Safety Supervisor, Schweitzer Mountain Ski Patrol
City Councilman, City of Sandpoint
Executive Director, Friends of the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center
1. Among the myriad issues facing the city at present, what do you consider the single most important issue, and why? Please also describe any other issues you feel are important.
As I see it, we have a couple of major issues facing the city right now. Perhaps the greatest for me is how to control the City's cost of doing business and ensuring that we provide the highest level of service possible as efficiently as possible. We need to continue to improve our infrastructure and supply the essential services while trying to stretch our dollars as far as possible. On top of this issue, there is a perceived (or real) disconnect between the City and the public that we need to confront and ensure that every citizen feels valued and heard. Safety of our busy intersections also concerns me and I especially look forward to improvements to the Pine/Division intersection. Parking has been a problem for a long time and does affect the success of our Downtown core.
2. The city for the first time is hiring a City Administrator that will oversee the city's other department heads and its annual $30 million-plus operations, answering to the mayor and council. Do you support or oppose the addition of this new position? Do you feel the hiring process has been sufficiently robust and transparent?
I do support the role of City Administrator for Sandpoint as long as we have the best candidate for the position. With over thirty applicants, I hope that we can be successful in filling the position. This role is important for the city as the Administrator will act as liaison between Department Heads, assisting them with program development and scheduling of capital improvements. S/he will also act as the face of Sandpoint in attracting and retaining local to international businesses. As for the hiring process, I do share concerns about the transparency of the process but also respect the right to privacy of the applicants. This is a hot button topic right now and I appreciate both sides of the argument; while maybe not enough for some, I was a proponent for allowing the public to interact with the finalists during an upcoming council meeting. It is important that both parties are vested in the position to make it successful.
3. On the Nov. 3 ballot voters will be asked to approve or reject a 5-year, 1 percent sales tax to replace the aging grandstands for Memorial Field, which are facing condemnation and removal. Do you support or oppose the Memorial Field sales tax ballot measure, and why?
Yes, I do support the 1% sales tax to fund improvements at Memorial Field. This is the best way we could find to share the responsibility for replacement of such an iconic Sandpoint landmark.
4. Jobs and the local economy are always an election issue, and with the closure of Coldwater Creek last year, plus a large number of vacancies in the downtown business district, the issue is as important as ever. How would describe the economy of Sandpoint today? What role do you see for the City Council/Mayor to play in creating a healthy local economy to foster growth of living-wage jobs in Sandpoint?
I feel that Sandpointís economy is doing better than when I arrived eight years ago despite losing Coldwater Creek. The housing and building market is rolling right along, home values are on the rebound, and established companies such as Litehouse Foods and Thorne Research continue to grow while newer companies like Quest Aircraft and Kochava are experiencing rapid growth and garnering international acclaim.
The problem is that for many, wages remain stagnant. Although I probably will receive criticism, I do believe that it is time to raise the minimum wage to a level that supports both employees and the employers that took the risk in the first place. A family of four with one working parent in our county needs to earn a minimum of almost $45,500 pre-tax which works out to about $23/hour (http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/16017) while our median income (according to city-data.com) was only $37,500 or approximately $19.53/hour in 2013. An additional way to increase the living wage in Sandpoint is to work with NIC on expanding education programs, specifically for the high-tech fields local companies desperately require.
5. Officials and employers have identified the need for fiber optic or high-speed Internet in Sandpoint in order to attract and retain companies. How important do you feel this issue is, and do you have specific ideas to facilitate or encourage high-capacity Internet access?
Sandpoint is definitely behind on provision of quality, reliable high-speed internet access and it affects both business and residential owners. The City has been working tirelessly for the past six years to find a company capable of providing this service and we have been close a number of times, but ultimately unsuccessful. With infrastructure upgrades over the years, the City has developed a fiber ready network with conduit from the new water treatment plant to City Hall (soon to be completed). As soon as we can find a company with which to work, we will be ready to go.
6. Related to the economy is the matter of affordable workforce housing. Do you feel affordable housing is an issue; if so, do you have plans to address it?
With an estimated per capita income two years ago for Sandpoint residents of only $22,600 and median rents of $768/month, affordable housing is an issue. This means that the average person spends over 40% of their income on housing. Sandpoint needs to continue to look for opportunities such as the Milltown Apartment and Townhome project next to Super1 on Boyer. The Comprehensive Plan does promote areas for increased density developments and there are opportunities for establishing live-work combinations.
7. Another perennial issue in Sandpoint is downtown parking. Do you feel the downtown has a parking problem, in either total available parking or the management and enforcement of parking? How would you address parking issues?
Downtown parking has been a historical issue for Sandpoint that hasnít been solved successfully yet. I think that total available parking is sufficient; rather, it comes down to how people use the parking. I know that we have a problem with some business owners and employees that play the parking game of moving their vehicle every two hours to adhere to the law, but this action decreases available spots for those who wish to frequent our downtown businesses. In order to combat this game, I would be in favor of booting our repeat offenders instead of allowing unpaid parking tickets to pile up. We held a meeting recently with Diamond Parking about what we wanted to see from them in terms of parking enforcement and they are going to offer suggestions and alternatives. Something that I would like to do is reconsider the no warning program in place, especially for those with out-of-town license plates. Another idea would be to open the city parking lot to free parking and install meters everywhere else. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer and alternatives cost money.
8. Substance abuse has been identified as an increasingly serious problem locally. Do you believe the city government should play a role in combatting substance abuse; and if so, how?
Substance abuse is a problem not just for Sandpoint, but also for smaller rural towns across the country. For me, education is one of the best forms of prevention we have available. The schools do a decent job with offering a consistent message and parents need to take an active role as well. Beyond education, Sandpoint needs to be able to respond with support services for those with addictions. The Police Department does offer a prescription drug return program which allows people to turn over unused medications rather than introducing them to our water source via flushing and it helps to keep them out of the hands of children. Other than enforcement of existing state laws, support and education is the answer.
9. Increasing train traffic, specifically trains transporting coal and volatile oil, has become an issue locally and regionally with citizens who identify environmental and public safety threats. Do you feel this is an important issue for city officials; if so, what actions to you advocate?
Imagine that your house is on fire, you have called 911 for the fire department, but the engine is stuck on Boyer between rail crossings. We have all seen oil trains derailing and exploding in other parts of the country on the news. Of course these are problems we should be concerned with. The problem with addressing our at-grade safety concerns is financial. The railroads are not required to pay for improvements; they are the responsibility of the city. Sandpoint constantly looks for ways of dealing with this issue and searches for outside funding sources to improve the crossings and we need to continue to do so. Selkirk Fire has trained with BNSF resources in case of a derailment, the county is working on updating their Emergency Response Plan, and the company is aware of our concerns with hazardous materials bisecting our city and threatening our waterways. We have asked to be placed on environmental assessments in relation to increased coal transport and will continue our efforts there as well.
10. In July 2014, two city policemen shot and killed a troubled 35-year-old pregnant woman when she rushed at them with a knife. They were found by an independent prosecutor to have exercised justifiable use of force, but attorneys for the woman's family and some citizens believe the death was avoidable and have questioned police tactics in volatile situations. Do you feel the city has responded adequately in this case? Do you think police are adequately trained for crisis intervention, and in use of deadly force? More generally, do you see a role to play as an elected official in fostering good relations between police and citizens?
The events of July 2014 are an ongoing tragedy for everyone involved. As for the question of police training, yes, I feel that our department is heavily invested in continuing their crisis intervention programs. Our officers attend CIT training and by early 2016, fifteen of nineteen members of our department will have received the training (there were other officers trained but they moved to different departments). They hold annual refreshers for every member of their staff and have teamed up with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) through which one officer has become a trainer for deescalation. Two of Sandpointís Police Officers have received awards from both NAMI and CIT. As for relations between the department and citizens, I feel that they have improved over recent years and it is part of my responsibility to make sure that they continue to do so.