Boise & Garden City

What Gov. Little just did. Bieter: ‘It’s a shame.’ Boise chamber: ‘We get targeted’

Over objections from Boise’s mayor, Gov. Brad Little has signed a bill that places new limits on how cities can use property taxes in urban-renewal districts to fund stadiums and municipal buildings without going to voters.

But the bill’s impact on Boise’s planned new Downtown library and a proposed sports stadium west of Downtown remains unclear. A citizens group says it still plans to gather signatures for a petition to put the projects on the November ballot.

Little signed House Bill 217, which passed the House and Senate easily despite objections from Boise city officials and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The legislation requires a public vote if the cost of a municipal building or a major remodel exceeds $1 million and is funded by at least 51 percent non-federal public money that includes any amount of urban-renewal money.

Mayor David Bieter considered the bill an attack on Boise’s plans to build an $85 million main library and a $50 million stadium west of Downtown. But as of Tuesday, city officials still weren’t saying whether the bill might kill or alter those projects, or whether the city would put either or both of them to a citizen vote.

“It’s a shame that the Legislature and the governor are so willing to take away tools that allow cities all across Idaho to create jobs and strong economic conditions for their communities,” Bieter told the Statesman through his spokesman.

A group of about two dozen Boise residents who want voters to decide on a new library and stadium in Boise, gather at park along Vista Avenue Saturday, March 16, 2019, to begin a signature drive to add two initiatives to the November ballot. Darin Oswald

Proponents said the bill is designed to give voters a say on how their property taxes will be spent in urban-renewal districts. The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce opposed it, saying Boise’s use of urban-renewal money revived Downtown.
Bill Connors, the chamber’s president and CEO, said the group is “obviously disappointed” that Little signed the bill.

“Boise has successfully used urban renewal for years,” Connors said in a phone interview. “We’re one of the cities that has never abused it, yet we get targeted.”

Idaho law lets city councils create urban-renewal districts in deteriorating areas for up to 20 years. During those years, existing taxing districts, such as schools, cities and counties, continue to collect whatever taxes they collected within the district’s territory when the district was formed, but no more. Any new property-tax revenue — known as the “tax increment” — resulting from new development or higher property values goes to the district to be spent on public improvements to foster development.

Boise officials for several weeks have been unable to say how the bill would affect either the library or stadium. Connors could not say either.

“It’s not a surprise the governor signed it,” said John Brunelle, executive director of the Capital City Development Corp., the urban-renewal agency. “The agency will review and analyze the new rules and abide by them.”

The library’s funds are expected to come from $15 million in urban-renewal funding, $15 million from other city funds, $18 million in philanthropy, and $32 million to $37 million in lease financing.

The stadium would be privately developed but owned by the city. Most of its $50 million is expected to come from bonds sold by Boise’s urban-renewal agency and paid back with increased property taxes created by new, surrounding development — urban-renewal money — plus lease payments of more than $1 million per year made by Agon Sports, which owns the Boise Hawks and the soccer team that would play at the new stadium.

The rest of the stadium’s financing would come from $3 million in non-urban-renewal city funds and $8 million to $9 million from a hotel room tax levied by the Greater Boise Auditorium District.

Todd Dvorak, a Boise publicist representing Atlanta’s Greenstone Properties, the developer of the stadium, declined to comment.

Boise officials lobbied against the bill, saying the bill would have larger implications for all Idaho cities. Those who have been pushing for an election on the stadium and library consider the bill a victory.

Adelia Simplot, president of Boise Working Together and a self-described preservationist, said her group will study the impact of the bill but plans to continue collecting signatures to put the projects on the ballot in November.

“I’m very pleased,” Simplot said. “I’ve always thought that people who pay for these kinds of things need to be heard from.”

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.