Boise & Garden City

Boise kept quiet about a new law’s effect on the library. The mayor just weighed in.

Boise’s new main library can move ahead without an election despite a new Idaho law that requires elections for certain city buildings funded with property-tax money from urban renewal districts, Mayor David Bieter said Friday.

In an interview on KBOI-AM 670, Bieter said he thinks the so-called stadium bill, which passed the Legislature this year over the objections of Boise officials, will not have any impact on the city’s proposed library project.

Boise plans to replace its existing main library on Capitol Boulevard with an $85 million building. A parking garage that is planned to be part of the project would be built with funds from the urban renewal district that includes the library site.

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’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp., has built several Downtown parking garages using urban renewal funds.

“The library, we have a parking garage that’s handled with urban renewal,” Bieter said. “Those are exempt, always was. The rest of the project isn’t using tax-increment financing from the district, so we think that should be able to go forward basically as it was before.”

Bieter did not explain how he drew his conclusion. Mike Journee, the mayor’s spokesman, said later Friday that the mayor was not available for comment.

Bieter did not offer any update on what the new law might mean for a proposed $50 million baseball and soccer stadium proposed west of Downtown, however, saying that project was “a little more complicated.” That project would be financed in large part by urban renewal money generated by new development the stadium is expected to generate.

“We’re looking into that now,” Bieter said. “We do think there’s a route forward on both, but it’s getting a little old to keep changing the rules on us.”

City officials have said since before Gov. Brad Little signed the bill on April 9 that they were unsure how the bill would affect the new main branch of the library or the proposed sports stadium. Through a public records request, the Statesman obtained emails that showed the city tried to lobby against the bill even without knowing its ultimate impact.

The bill, House Bill 217, 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. Bieter considered the bill an attack on Boise’s plans to build the library and stadium.

Bieter said on KBOI that the Idaho Senate’s amendments to the original House bill “made it better,” but he still said the legislation was the result of Canyon County legislators not happy with “what went on in Canyon County.”

Legislators had already imposed new restrictions on urban renewal in 2016 partly in response to concerns that Nampa had used urban renewal tax revenue to build municipal buildings, including a police station, a library and a parking garage, instead of projects that would foster private development.

Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling and the Nampa City Council supported this year’s bill.

Separately, a citizens group, Boise Working Together, is gathering signatures to put both the library and the stadium on the November ballot. Bieter said on KBOI that those elections are unnecessary because both projects have been “prominently discussed” for years, and voters in the most recent city elections have favored candidates who support them.

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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.