First quarter update from the mayor’s office

Taking stock of the city’s challenges and needs

By Sandpoint Mayor Jeremy Grimm
Reader Contributor

Since my inauguration on Jan. 3, 2024, transitioning into the mayorship has been a journey of adaptation and transformation. Amid the typical challenges of acclimating to new faces, policies and procedures, I’ve embraced the opportunity to engage with more than 110 staff members and integrate their valuable insights into enhancing the functionality of City Hall. Thanks to their suggestions, we’ve implemented numerous minor adjustments that streamline our operations and foster greater citizen engagement.

As promised during my campaign, I’ve reinstated various citizen committees and commissions that had been dormant under the previous administration. Committees such as Parks and Recreation, Urban Forestry, Bicycle and Pedestrian, Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and Sustainability are about to be activated. We anticipate finalizing the necessary ordinance changes to govern these committees by May, enabling them to address crucial issues and advise the City Council effectively.

Sandpoint Mayor Jeremy Grimm. Courtesy photo.

A significant challenge I encountered upon assuming office was addressing the vacancy left by the former city administrator. Despite this hurdle, the transition has allowed me to delve deeply into the inner workings of our city, leading to progress in reorganizing toward a more traditional department head structure. With capable individuals managing their respective domains, we’re fostering accountability and decision-making authority at all levels. 

This shift toward a collaborative organizational structure is underscored by the reinstatement of bi-monthly updates from individual staff and department heads during City Council meetings, enhancing transparency and accountability.

Throughout the first quarter, I’ve conducted a comprehensive assessment of the city’s challenges and needs, akin to inspecting a used car before purchase. This examination revealed pressing issues, foremost among them being the obsolete state of our wastewater treatment plant. 

With the facility dating back to World War II, urgent action is required to prevent further environmental degradation. 

During periods of high flows (rain and rain-on-snow events), the facility becomes overwhelmed leading to wastewater discharge that at times exceeds water quality standards. Despite the best efforts of staff, they have been put in a situation of near-constant reaction to breakdowns and emergency repairs, which are costly and stressful. 

The city will need to finance and build a new wastewater plant within the next four years. Plans for a new plant — estimated to cost between $60 million and $110 million, depending on the specific type of treatment technology used — are underway, signaling the largest public works project in Sandpoint’s history.

Another critical concern is the deteriorating condition of our streets, exacerbated by years of deferred maintenance. Our streets, many of which were originally constructed without proper base rock, are failing. 

A recent engineering analysis of pavement conditions confirmed that despite the additional funding (estimated at nearly $1 million per year) made possible by the approval of our increased lodging tax, we are fighting a losing battle and our pavement conditions will continue to degrade. Creative solutions, such as partnering with neighboring jurisdictions and prioritizing essential maintenance over new projects, are imperative to address this pressing issue.

Potable water infrastructure also demands attention, particularly the deficient transmission lines serving areas outside city limits. Addressing the challenges of the water transmission system is critical to the health, safety and economy of our region, and will require significant effort working with our neighbors toward the formulation of a sustainable long-term solution. Like our other challenges, the water transmission situation did not occur overnight, and an equitable solution will take time to develop.

In closing, these priorities represent just a fraction of the challenges we face. In July, I will provide a comprehensive update on our progress, including key developments in land use, transportation, budgeting and more. 

From the onset of my campaign for mayor I stated that I would focus on putting Sandpoint residents first and focus on taking care of what we have before pursuing shiny new projects. The decisions that we face are challenging and will require sacrifice, compromise and tradeoffs.  Together, we will navigate these challenges and steer Sandpoint toward a secure and prosperous future for all residents.

Contact: [email protected] 

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