Bieter pitches wish-list bond

Despite obstacles, it's time for the city to invest in its future, he says.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJune 13, 2013 

  • The mayor's plans for Boise

    Here's a look at what Dave Bieter believes are improvement priorities:

    • Boise has long planned to establish a branch library in Bown Crossing. On the library system's list of priorities, it comes before a hoped-for expansion, renovation or replacement of the main branch on Capitol Boulevard.

    • As Boise opens a massive expansion of its park system, including the future Esther Simplot Park, West Boise is the area of the city most underserved, Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said. The department has identified at least five spots in the area that are ripe for improvements, Holloway said - pieces of city-owned ground that could be developed into parks, or existing parks that could use facilities such as picnic shelters and playgrounds.

    • Fire Chief Dennis Doan said more than half of the city's 19 fire stations are at least 25 years old, and some are older than 50 years. Some stations, due to shifting population densities across the city and progress in technology available to crews, are no longer located in a way that optimizes the department's resources, Doan said.

    "What we're doing is looking at our whole city and saying, 'Where can we best place this infrastructure to serve our citizens best?' " he said. "Is there overlap? Are there some gaps?"

Dave Bieter wants Boise to buy more Foothills land, rework its fire station complex, develop more park space in West Boise and establish a fourth branch library in Bown Crossing.

He hopes city residents raise their own taxes to pay for the improvements.

"We know that those investments pay huge dividends. We've already seen it in our community centers, in our neighborhood libraries, in our parks," Bieter said 22 minutes into his State of the City address Wednesday. "Those are the kinds of amenities that say to the world, 'This is who we are. This is what we value.' They make us competitive and we need to stay that way."

Bieter said he wants the public to help decide what mix of projects Boise should take on and how much the city should spend on them.

Once the decision's made, Bieter wants the city to hold a bond election to raise as much as $50 million to spend on any or all of what he called "a package of critical capital improvements."

He gave no timeline for when the measure, which would require a two-thirds majority to pass, would go before voters.

"It's a very aggressive goal, and it's a very steep hill to climb," Bieter said.

Recent city funding measures haven't always crossed that two-thirds threshold, though one didn't require it to pass.

In 2006, a $35 million bond that would have paid to build four branch libraries around Boise failed with just 56 percent of voters in favor of it. In 2001, 59 percent of Boise voters were enough to pass a levy that raised property taxes for two years and generated $10 million for the purchase of undeveloped land in the Foothills. Most of that levy money has been spent on a series of property acquisitions.

Also in 2006, 70 percent of Boise School District patrons approved a $94 million bond issue supporting various construction and renovation projects across the district.

One of the first steps for the current effort is to form a committee of neighborhood leaders, businesspeople and other stakeholders, Bieter said. The committee would pursue public meetings, open houses and other outreach efforts with the goal of feeling out which investments people around Boise think are worth paying a little more money for.

Bieter estimated that the $50 million, 20-year bond would cost the average homeowner about $20 more a year in property taxes.

Sara Arkle, a community conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League, welcomed Bieter's mention of protecting more Foothills land, even if it was just one of four priorities.

"It makes sense to me that the city of Boise has a larger package in mind, because, clearly, from their perspective, we have a wide variety of needs," Arkle said. "But we hope that, whatever the final package looks like, open space will be a strong and robust partner to whatever additional elements are included."

Bieter's spokesman, Adam Park, said the mayor doesn't have a favorite item among his priorities. Park said lumping all of them together in a single bond election wasn't designed to capitalize on the popularity of one item, such as the popular Foothills open areas, just to help the others pass.

"It just makes sense to go to the voters one time, rather than multiple times," he said.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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