Between now and Nov. 3, Boise voters will decide whether to raise property taxes for two years to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, native plant species and undeveloped land in and around the city.
So far, only groups in favor of the levy have done any organized campaigning on the issue, although mayoral candidate Judy Peavey-Derr has expressed reservations, asking whether efforts that she says mostly benefit Foothills-area residents are fair to the rest of Boise.
Organized opposition came late in 2013, when the city government pushed a bond measure that would have raised the same amount of money for similar purposes. That bond failed because it didn’t reach the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
This year brings a different type of election. Instead of a bond, the city is asking for a two-year supplemental levy. In one sense, that makes passing it easier, because Idaho law requires only a simple majority for levies up to two years. But it also means that the tax increase needed to generate the money in those two years is greater than it would be to pay off a 20- to 30-year bond.
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Buy, sell, trade? How can the city use levy money?
If the Boise levy passes, the city likely will use some of the money from it to buy land in the Foothills.
Some people have asked whether the city could later sell, trade or otherwise dispose of those holdings.
Legally, it could happen, Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said. But it’s not likely unless the transaction yields some “enormous public benefit,” Holloway said.
There are a couple of relevant examples. The city of Boise bought the 700-acre Hammer Flat in 2010 and sold it to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game two years later. Boise bought the land with the goal of permanent wildlife habitat conservation. The city always planned to sell it as soon Fish and Game could free up enough money.
In 2013, Boise bought 260 acres in the Foothills between Hillside Junior High School and Harrison Hollow. City leaders later identified three parcels in that holding that it would be willing to trade, but only if someone offered Foothills land whose preservation as open space was a net gain for conservation. A few people have offered to trade parcels they own or to buy the city-owned lots outright, Holloway said, but the city has declined each time.
“It would take a huge public benefit to pry those three parcels away,” Holloway said.