2020 looks like a breakout year for Emmett

Utility work including extension of city fiber optic project were evident in 2019 and will remain so in 2020. 

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2019 constituted a banner year for the City of Emmett while 2020 looks like the breakout year we’ve all waited for. We begin with the department that keeps all other departments grounded, focused and happy to be working for Emmett: The City Clerk.

City Clerk Lyleen Jerome began 2019 by hosting Governor Brad Little’s inaugural Capital-for-a-Day. Enlisting the help of Systems Administration Director Mike Knittel, the city live-streamed the event for those who could not attend. By all accounts Governor Little’s first Capital-for-a-Day amounted to a great success.

Later in the year, using her banker’s eye for security and details, Mrs. Jerome established a credit card processing system for all city services provided. This customer-friendly move generated many kudos.

Since Mrs. Jerome hired and trained a dynamic staff—Stephanie Johnson and Alishia Elliot—the office utilizes technology in ways that allowed the elimination of one employee in her office, thus paving the way for another office to gain a most-needed administrative assistant. More recently, Mrs. Jerome implemented a Digital Record-Keeping System. We now have digitized minutes of every meeting by the Emmett City Council since January 1909.

The public accesses these minutes simply by making a public records request, giving the Clerk’s office the approximate year(s) and the subject matter sought. Director of Systems Administration Mike Knittel endeavors to take the digitized system to create an in-house add-on, obviating the need for any further outside contractor expenses.

One of the overarching goals for the entire city staff entails making Emmett a safer city each year. This goal obviously includes our city fire department under the strong and capable leadership of Fire Chief, Curt Christensen. Chief Christensen has provided us with one of the best trained “volunteer fire departments” (so-called) in the region. This happens to be the assessment, among others, of no less than the United States Army!

David L. Wilcox, Ft. Sam Houston’s GS-15 Director of Civil Support Training, comments in a November letter to Chief Christensen following a major training event at the Emmett Airport, “While we are not in the business of evaluating local responders, we were so impressed with your performance that we were compelled to convey our admiration for your commitment to establish and maintain such a qualified response team through continuous training.”

While Mr. Wilcox’s organization may not be in the business of evaluating local responders, it certainly is in the business of evaluating the joint Civil Support Teams that deal with radiological, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, similar to the CST organization stationed at Gowen Field in Boise. Accordingly, he would certainly recognize talent.

Your current city management makes it a high priority to properly train city employees. Yet, some of the best training often occurs in-house, conducted by city subject-matter experts with outside training supplementing only when available and affordable.

That exact model of training has led to zero-turnovers in personnel for our fire department this last year, giving us a better firefighting team—a team better trained because all firefighters move on from the primary skillsets to learning and practicing advanced fire suppression and life-saving techniques, tactics and procedures. All of this leads to an esprit de corps that generates a stronger morale, which, in turn, produces a more experienced and stronger unit as each year passes and the increasing knowledge becomes layered within the department.

Some of the EFD outside training last year included two firefighters attending the National Fire Academy for two weeks; three firefighters attending a three-day class covering car seat installation, bringing our trained technicians to 4; and two firefighters invested 18 months in an intense paramedic certification program adding significantly to the department’s medical-knowledge base.

We should also remember Emmett deployed an engine when the State of Idaho requested help for California. Emmett’s crew helped save twelve homes, once again bringing positive recognition to our community for its first-rate fire department and demonstrating its capability to deploy hundreds of miles away to assist other communities in times of extreme emergency while possessing enough stay-behind assets to continue serving Emmett without increasing any substantial risk factor.

In 2020, Emmett’s fire department will focus on erecting a training facility that burns Class A materials, such as wooden pallets, i.e., materials not containing toxic chemicals, thus allowing Emmett’s firefighters to train in a safe environment. Grants and the “sweat equity” of the department’s hard-working, dedicated members will make it happen.

The Police Department under Police Chief, Steve Kunka, constitutes the other partner making Emmett safer each year. One major police accomplishment last year entailed having a full-up POST-certified staff for the first time since the summer of 2017. Another major accomplishment centers on certifying 92% of our officers through the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. This program constitutes an innovative multi-agency program designed to improve the outcome in cases involving mental health issues with or without criminal conduct involved. The sole remaining uncertified officer will obtain certification this year. That officer attended POST when the last CIT training session took place.

Other EPD accomplishments include the installation of professional-grade, industry-standard evidence lockers, coupled with a new part-time property clerk to solely manage the evidence room. Finally, the department upgraded its body cameras and, in October, obtained certification for its K9 Narcotics Team now deployed on patrol, including our public schools. In 2020, one of the major police projects entails undergoing law enforcement-specific risk management training through ICRMP, the city’s insurance provider.

As already suggested, Mike Knittel’s Systems Administration comprises another department interfacing with all others. Since becoming its first and only director over four years ago, Systems has partnered will all others, but most particularly with Public Works, discovering ways to increase our fiber footprint while adhering to the city’s one-dig policy. We lay fiber conduit whenever sewer or water upgrades are taking place along our roadways. In 2019 alone, these two departments almost doubled the city’s fiber optic conduit footprint—a 93% increase to be exact. The major funding for this endeavor came through grants.

In 2019, Systems Administration completed the major GIS Cemetery Mapping Project, which provides a searchable database to locate gravesites. One simply goes to Emmett’s website (https://www.cityofemmett.org), and, after clicking the “Departments” drop-down link, clicks on the “Cemetery” link. One immediately sees the “Interactive Map” link to the left. If anyone has questions about how the system works, an email link exists to the right of the Interactive Map link. Also, during regular business hours, one has the option to call the cemetery telephone number given on the website.

Director Knittel is a state leader in the fiber-optic/broadband world of today and tomorrow. Having participated in the state-wide Broadband Task Force, Director Knittel successfully shepherded through Emmett’s first public/private partnership with a broadband provider known as Safelink. This agreement not only brings revenue to the city, it also allows an application of that funding to broadband issues, thus reducing some need for general funding. As an added bonus to its subscribers, this agreement provides an opportunity for Safelink to bolster its broadband capacity to them.

As demonstrated often over the last four years in the Messenger-Index covering the cost-savings Director Knittel and his staff (Kenndrick Rose and Josh Gilfoy) give the city, Systems, last year, conducted a massive migration of data to the police department’s new body camera platform (mentioned above). This has the long-term benefit of reducing cost of ownership in the technology and software side of the equipment having accomplished the migration in-house.

More recently, Systems Administration fiber-connected (or “lit”) the City Library, bringing Gigabit-capable broadband to patrons, initiated small-cell site planning in preparation for 5G in Emmett, and implemented a cybersecurity training program for all city employees in conjunction with ICRMP. The cybersecurity program, designed to mitigate one of the highest claims upon which ICRMP pays, puts us in a proactive stance to combat computer hijackings and ransom fee payments.

In 2020, Systems Administration will innovatively complete fiber to the waste water treatment plant by utilizing pre-existing under-drain infrastructure. It will install 95% of the conduit without digging! The current staff strongly believes in recycling anything we can to reduce costs. This is a major way for Systems Administration and Public Works to recycle the use of an old system in creating a new one.

2019 amounted to a “Milestone Year” for the Emmett City Library, breaking records from such things as celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday in February (over 363 children interfaced with the Cat in the Hat) to commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Perhaps more significantly, the Fiscal Year circulation increased by 19% over the previous year (90,250 items).

Emmett Library Director Alyce Kelley attributes these records to an increased awareness of library programs and services and a rock-solid staff. With an increase of youth participation in children’s programming (up 66% over 2018), the library satisfied its strategic goals focused on “kindergarten readiness” and teaching life-long learning skills.

In similar fashion, the Summer Reading program in 2019 exceeded all previous years. 320 youth registered for the program and the June checkout for the program hit an all-time high of 3,090, besting the record set in 2018. We also witnessed July setting its own record with 3,325 items checked out (up 21% from 2018). With the addition of many family-focused programs, such as “First Wednesday Kid’s Corner”, Idaho Family Reading Week, and School Break programming last year, the Library experienced a remarkable record-setting increase over 2018. (287% in family activities, alone!)

Clearly, Emmett does its part to support Idaho’s number one U.S. ranking for children’s program attendance and number two ranking per capita for circulation of children’s materials in public libraries.

Thanks to the oft-mentioned Systems Administration Department, the library continues to excel in offering technological services to the community. From e-books, to resource data bases, to proctoring on-line learning, the library offers significant assistance. The recent agreement with the Idaho Department of Labor to use the library as a service site twice a week once again makes the library identifiable as a service leader, while two additional public computers to the seven already available. These additional computers have helped tremendously because the library serves over 6,316 patrons and adds new patrons each year.

Since Alyce Kelley and her crew do more with less, our library has necessarily developed key partnerships with local businesses, governmental agencies and other organizations. This allows the city to enhance and expand library services. The library also continues to develop grant and gift programs because growth does not come without a cost. The 2019 Fall Auction fundraiser provides an excellent example of how the community supports the library. It generated over $10,000. For 2020, the library will unveil its “Community Vision Board”. Stay tuned for that.

Two departments seldom mentioned because they work so quietly will, however, be mentioned in this State of the City. Building and Zoning under Brian Sullivan faithfully performs the mundane—from checking plans, to preparing ordinances, to performing building inspections, all the things that those without a significant attention span need not attempt.

Building and Zoning is currently bringing on line a new permitting software to streamline the entire process. In addition, Brian continues to work diligently on a Tiny House Ordinance while sorting through the chapters of the joint comprehensive plan now ready for public hearing—doing the formatting and spelling checks—and continues to scan building plans into the Building and Zoning system to forward to the County Assessor’s office for assessment purposes. With the city scanning these plans, we create a digital filing system for our records, and, at the same time, help the Assessor’s office by eliminating their need to scan the same plan. The city always assists other units of government when feasible.

Also hardly mentioned is our intrepid City Attorney Jacob (Jake) Sweeten. His advice is solid, easy to understand and, just as significant, full of common sense. Jake will perform some heavy lifting in 2020 as we begin in earnest the anticipated increase in Broadband contracts, adjustments in the city’s Area of Impact, developmental agreements and new ordinances designed to help control anticipated growth.

Last, but not least, we find Public Works under Director Clint Seamons. As the largest department in the city, Public Works has much to do with whether or not we have a successful year. In 2019, Public Works hit several home runs while producing no forced errors. One of its major cost-saving techniques initiated last year dealt with reducing our chemical costs by 90% ($85,000) due to the city incorporating a UV disinfection system at the Waste Water Treatment Plant plus a new chemical injection process that dramatically reduces chemical requirements.

Public works also saved $55,000 simply by bringing in-house our GIS data collection and closed caption television, eliminating the need for outsourcing. It saved another $64,000 by combining sewer and water under one manager.

By focusing on costs attendant to the Emmett Airport for the first time maybe ever, Public Works has laid the groundwork to make the Airport self-sustaining. Couple this turn around with the savings of almost $340,000 in water operations and an additional $867,000 in sewer, which, in turn, become part of the capital improvement funds for these operations, the city has attained a level of efficiency making it unnecessary in the foreseeable future to raise either water or sewer rates, which, unfortunately, constituted a common technique up to January of 2015.

Happily, this model of efficiency and redirection of savings allows us to double the road budget. Yet, none of this could have been accomplished without coming full circle to Clerk Jerome and her to-the-penny accounting of funds. 2020, then, will see more of the same for Public Works: upgrading roads, water, sewer, and storm drainage infrastructure while laying more fiber. We also anticipate the Idaho Transportation Department will make a major overlay upgrade to Washington (State Highway 52) during the spring and summer from the intersection at State Highways 16 and 52 to the Payette Bridge.

Hence, the City of Emmett is in great shape to move forward innovatively, technologically, and in a manner that significantly reduces costs. We will tackle infrastructure issues in ways never before attempted, let alone accomplished. We will focus on laying the foundation for the most affordable housing a free-market system can establish in a small, economically-challenged community. City leadership will increase its efforts for local job creation through increased broadband capacity in a clean, healthy and attractive city—one in which people want to live and to contribute in ways making Emmett welcoming and desirable.

New infrastructure will stay ahead of growth while upgraded existing infrastructure handles its increase. City employees have established a culture in which each department asks itself, “How can we do the task before us better, faster and for less cost?” What we have discovered over the last five years in providing the answer no longer surprises us. Most often the answer lies in utilizing our own in-house resources.

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