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citydesk (2/4/09)

Homeless, bikes and taxes

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Bike locker 2.0

The citydesk is salivating over job perks at the Microsoft HQ just down the block on Broad Street. Erected this winter: a modernist, glass-enclosed bike locker cater-corner to the Idaho Independent Bank building, which now houses three floors of Microsoft workers.

"Microsoft is pretty adamant about bike facilities back on the Redmond [Wash.] campus," said Kurt Ziegler, a senior development manger who works on the SharePoint Server software.

At Microsoft's Washington operations, most of the bike racks are in underground parking garages, keeping your ride out of the rain.

So when Bill Gates' big dogs were looking for new office space in downtown Boise (they used to be at Miller and 10th streets), they made covered bike storage a prerequisite.

Landlord Scott Ludwig obliged in spades, calling on the guys at George's Cycles for design and having a $25,000 modified bus stop with room for two dozen bikes installed on the corner of a privately run parking lot across from the building.

Ziegler rides a recumbent bike from the North End every morning (it takes up more than one space) and another programmer rides eight miles to work in the morning. More fair weather riders work at Microsoft as well.

Ludwig tells citydesk he plans on putting more bike lockers up at his other downtown properties and wants to encourage cycling downtown.

"We knew that having a bike storage was important to them," Ludwig said. "And it's the right thing to do."

Hey, Microsoft dudes, we have plenty of plastic Statesman bags lying around here to cover our seat with, but could we maybe cop a park sometime when it is pedal deep in snow and our fingers are freezing to the handlebars? Just a little park?

Tax rules

The Idaho State Tax Commission has beefed up its own internal rules for handling tax bill settlement agreements in the wake of a continuing non-scandal. Or semi-scandal.

As the Legislature waits on a full report of the Tax Commission's secret deal-making with companies that owe back taxes, tax commissioners met with their staff at a recent open meeting to approve a new internal policy.

The new policy, written by Tax Commission attorney Ted Spangler and two other colleagues, lays out two overarching goals in deciding tax protests: to protect the taxpayer's rights and to resolve the differences between the taxpayer and the agency staff on the tax bill.

"It's not a mistake the order that they are listed in; we deliberately put the taxpayers rights to a fair and impartial review as the first one," Spangler told the commissioners.

Last summer, one of the commission's senior auditors filed a whistleblower report alleging that commissioners regularly settle with out-of-state companies without any legal basis for lowering the tax amount.

The report led to a series of reviews of the settlement procedure, each of which exonerated the commissioners. A governor's review included several recommendations to the tax commission, including beefing up its policies.

One of the clarifications in the new policy is that on settlements exceeding $50,000, two commissioners are required to sign off. While this has been in writing for some time, it is not always followed.

Copies of two prior Tax Commission settlement policies show that in past years, three commissioners were required to review large settlements, and were able to file their concerns with the settlement, but that was changed in February 2008.

The legislative tax committees are still waiting to see a final report detailing each of the commission's settlements in the past year, a report that commission chairman Royce Chigbrow said is almost complete.

"We will address all of the points in the Gentry [report]," Chigbrow said, referring to the governor's review of the commission's settlement procedures. "This is only the start of our report to the Idaho Legislature."

Scorching the squatters

Another group of guys who could use a custom bus stop shelter this winter: the people who were squatting at the old U.S. Forest Service buildings the city burned last week.

"I think it's kind of shitty myself, that the city elected to do that," said Jimmy Moore, a homeless man whom we caught up with outside of the Corpus Cristi House day shelter on Americana.

The owners of the abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps-era buildings on Myrtle Street just west of Broadway allowed the Boise Fire Department to torch their property in a training fire the week of Jan. 26 (see pictures at citydesk.boiseweekly.com).

Moore said he knew a few guys who were living in the abandoned buildings as recently as December, just trying to stay out of the cold.

Two younger women at the shelter also indicated they knew of people squatting in the buildings late last year and said they had stayed there themselves a year ago.

Lynn Hightower, spokeswoman for Boise police and fire, said that police had notified the property owners a year and a half ago that people were living in the buildings and the owners had the buildings boarded up.

She did not know of anyone staying in the buildings this winter and said that police had not encountered anyone there.

The owners offered up the buildings to the fire department for a training fire and paid to clean up the site.

"Before they burn it, they want to know exactly what's in there," Hightower said.

Hightower said the buildings were unsafe and unhealthy for human habitation and that property owners are responsible for securing their buildings.

The women we spoke with at Corpus Cristi agreed that the buildings were not sanitary.

None of the shelters around town that we reached knew of anyone displaced by the fires.

The burn and signs along the fences at the westernmost section of downtown, between Front and Myrtle, indicate another property poised for development.

Moore said the fire is another example of the city's constant harassment of homeless people.

Bike plan out for review

And back to cycling, the Ada County Highway District has completed its Roadways to Bikeways plan and seeks public comment on it.

The plan is available at achd.ada.id.us under the Roadways to Bikeways link, along with instructions for filing comments on the plan.

The $250,000 planning effort has involved a review of bicycle infrastructure across the county, and the result is a map detailing needed improvements in bike routes, road design with cyclists in mind and signage for cyclists. The study also included a review of current bicycle usage in Ada County.

One of the recommendations is better racks and bike storage in high volume areas.

The study will be presented to the highway district commissioners in April.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009, 4,239 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,406 in combat and 833 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 31,010. In the last week, seven U.S. soldiers died.

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 10 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 90,556 and 98,850.

Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $593,789,271,161

Source: costofwar.com

—Nathaniel Hoffman

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