Our View, Nampa, Meridian: Bigger councils, more ideas

May 17, 2013 

  • TUESDAY ELECTIONS

    We are offering opinions on some of the issues to be decided. Today we focus on ballot measures in Meridian and Nampa to grow their city councils from four to six members. An Our View supporting an Eagle bond measure to purchase its City Hall building appeared May 10, and an editorial on the Greater Boise Auditorium District elections appeared May 15.

The phrase "government expansion" normally might cause some voters in Idaho's second- and third-largest cities to recoil at the thought. Nonetheless, we think it is a good idea to have this vote on city council expansion to take the "representative ratio" temperature of Meridian and Nampa.

Both Meridian and Nampa, population 81,000 and 83,000 respectively, have experienced amazing growth over the last three decades. This population argument has created enough sentiment among stakeholders in both municipalities to muster a ballot measure to expand the councils from four to six members for the November elections. A secondary argument is that Boise and Caldwell have six-member city councils, so why shouldn't Meridian and Nampa?

Population, alone, is not a justification for expanding council representation. After all, populations increase dramatically in Idaho and the United States, without expanding representation. But there are other factors to consider.

We support expansion because it brings new opportunities for new people to share their ideas in these growing communities.

Both Meridian and Nampa have estimated the costs of adding two part-time council positions to their organizations at $40,000 to $50,000 a year total compensation, though it could be less if the new members don't accept all or any of the health benefits package. In Meridian part-time council members earn $9,000 plus benefits. In Nampa members make just under $11,000 plus benefits.

These costs, though seemingly modest, should be on the minds of voters in both communities.

One can argue Meridian is still smarting from having to deal with $4 million in legal costs incurred after losing lawsuits related to the construction of its $20 million City Hall.

The expense of Nampa's ongoing urban renewal projects and the cost to taxpayers may stir opposition.

If council expansion passes, residents in both communities will be paying about $20,000 to $25,000 per seat for their expanded representation in an overall sense, but not necessarily in a geographic sense. Both Meridian and Nampa have "at large" council seats - which means there is no geography or district associated with the present or new seats.

We support this election because it puts expansion in the hands of voters where it belongs. If the measures pass, the November elections will include two additional seats on the ballot, one a two-year term and one a four-year term.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@a .com.

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