citydesk (4/8/09) 

Deadlines

This week, citydesk was going to tell you all about a bunch of things that were supposed to happen on Tuesday, April 7. But early press deadlines preclude us from actually reporting on Tuesday's events, so whatever we thought we knew about them would be old news by the time you read this.

So instead, we'll just let you in on what we all might have missed and you can catch up at citydesk.boiseweekly.com any time this week.

Here goes.

The Hole

Tuesday was auction day for the Boise Hole, aka the former Boise Tower, aka the former Boise Place property at the corner of Eighth and Main streets. Interested parties with enough cash (at least $2.5 million) were to gather at Alliance Title and Escrow Corp.'s Default (Foreclosure) Services (yes, that's the actual name, parenthesis and all). And qualified bidders must have brought the cash (or certified check or personal banker) with them.

Whomever ended up with the corner Tuesday afternoon will be the fifth owner since 1972 to do nothing with it.

State insurance fund

Also Tuesday, the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee was to hold a meeting on a bill to rid the State Insurance Fund of one of its original governing statutes: a requirement to pay out dividends fairly to all policy holders.

Since 2001, the State Insurance Fund, which primarily provides workers' compensation insurance to state workers and many small businesses across the state, has only paid dividends to policy holders who pay $2,500 or more in annual premiums (last year this was lowered to $1,500).

That 2001 change in policy spurred a class action lawsuit in which the Idaho Supreme Court ruled last month that the fund was not legally distributing its excess premiums, and had to pay the tens of thousands of small policyholders back dividends.

The Insurance Fund considers the dividends a "return of unused premium" and says that low premiums are always used up in administrative costs.

"Our opinion is this is a return of unused premium. If it costs X amount to write a policy, then you're not going to give somebody money back against that," fund manager Jim Alcorn told citydesk.

So what's the recourse when a government agency loses a court case? Well, have the law changed and make it retroactive a decade.

Sen. John Goedde, a Coeur d'Alene Republican who is also an insurance salesman and member of the—you guessed it—State Insurance Fund board of directors, sponsored a bill to get rid of the pesky dividend statute and allow the State Fund to operate like private insurance companies in Idaho.

Goedde said he didn't think there was a conflict of interest and that the bill will not affect the Supreme Court decision.

The State Insurance Fund is "a tremendous blessing for the small business operators in Idaho and this lawsuit is basically biting the hand that feeds them," he said.

Fire

And in that same Senate Commerce meeting, on—you guessed it—Tuesday afternoon, attempts to eliminate the state fire marshal's power and enforcement of fire code on private property were to proceed.

This bill, House Bill 202, came about after a conflict over the width of a driveway in Midvale, from whence Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney hails. The bill takes a swipe at fire code regulation, disempowering the state fire marshal from adopting internationally agreed upon fire codes.

It also bars local jurisdictions from inspecting private buildings and makes many other changes that cities, counties and fire departments find ambiguous.

"This is an attack on local rule of the highest magnitude. It would create a huge unfunded mandate on cities and fire districts to have to provide more firefighters and apparatus as the absence of fire code enforcement would result in more fires," reads a bulletin from the Idaho Fire Chiefs' Association.

Trash

Not this Tuesday, but if your trash day is on Tuesdays, you may want to check in with Allied Waste pretty soon. Starting the week of April 13, trash days in Boise, Eagle, Star and parts of unincorporated Ada County may shift. The company's Web site, alliedwasteidaho.com has a high-tech address lookup tool for residents to find their new trash day.

Ours is changing from Friday to Thursday.

It's the first major change in trash hauling routes in Boise in almost two decades. Allied says the reason for the change is that growth in certain areas required a retooling of routes. The new schedule is supposed to save fuel and costs.

College fees

And completely unrelated to Tuesdays (unless you have an early Tuesday class), tuition at Boise State is set to rise 5 percent, or an extra $116, per semester next year.

The State Board of Education approved fee hikes last week at each of Idaho's public colleges and universities. Boise State requested and received a 5 percent hike, but other universities asked for more and had their requests paired down by the board.

"We're going to be the lowest compared to ISU and U of I," said Boise State spokesman Frank Zang. "These are not easy times and it's not fair to ask students to carry the brunt of the economic downturn on their shoulders."

Zang said the 5 percent hike for 2010 is the lowest annual increase in 14 years.

But the university is facing a $9 million state budget cut and expects some $3 million in revenue loss after folding its Selland College program into the new College of Western Idaho.

Boise State faculty were concerned that fees would continue to rise in the current economic climate.

"We don't want budgets balanced on the backs of students," said Boise State Faculty Senate President Will Rainford. "But neither do we want to see our staff suffer payroll reductions."

Rainford laid the blame squarely on the Legislature.

"Our concern is that the Legislature has made bad choices and in essence the State Board is increasing taxes on working families by increasing their student fees."

Representatives of the Associated Students of Boise State did not return calls. Perhaps they are too busy running for re-election to concern themselves with rising tuition costs.

There will be no increase for facility or technology fees, but the coursework and activities portion of the tuition will account for the rise, Zang said.

—Nathaniel Hoffman

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, April 7, 2009, 4,268 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,425 in combat and 843 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 31,169. In the last week, four U.S. soldiers died.

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 39 soldiers have died.

—Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 91,367 and 99,754.

—Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $611,417,476,611

—Source: costofwar.com

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