Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles weighs in on the city’s 2020 budget
As Boise’s city budget grows, some residents contend that the city’s priorities are misplaced.
The city’s budget is largely shaped around its exploding population. Mayor David Bieter’s administration has proposed to spend $764.7 million for fiscal year 2020, a 1.58 increase over fiscal year 2019. Some of that money is dedicated to new emergency personnel and “planning for growth.”
Much of the money will go toward transit and housing needs in Boise, including an $8.6 million contribution to Valley Regional Transit (a 15.9 percent increase from fiscal 2019) and $325,000 for the city’s “Grow Our Housing” initiative.
Boise spends an estimated 5 percent of its budget on VRT. The city spends 56.4 percent of its budget funding the police and fire departments, 13.1 percent funding Parks and Recreation, and 6.4 percent funding the library system.
Employees would get raises. The mayor’s proposal allows for a 3 percent base increase for salaries plus 2 percent one-time payment. It also contains $300,000 in “personnel contingency allocation” that allows the city to adjust employees’ salaries to “attract and retain a high-quality workforce.”
State law allows a city to increase property taxes up to 3 percent each year without voter approval, and to increase its budget to reflect new properties added to the tax rolls. Boise officials say the proposed budget would take all of that.
The city’s levy rate would fall, but officials say the average homeowner would pay $105 more, with the average bill for city taxes rising to $1,314, from $1,209 now, an 8.7 percent increase. Those figures are based on a rise in the average home’s assessed value to $330,200 from $283,100 while the homeowner’s exemption holds steady at $100,000.
Several residents voiced concerns at a City Council public hearing Tuesday, ranging from parks that needed upgrades to how much money the city spends on consultants.
Growth and its effects were common themes.
Brent Coles, who was mayor from 1993 to 2003, criticized the $85 million estimated cost of the proposed new main library. Coles said the money would be better spent on fire stations and police personnel.
“It’s clear as we’re driving around the city of Boise that we do not have the number of officers per thousand that we need,” Coles said. “You’ve expanded geographically, and you’ve expanded in density.”
Lori Dicaire, who runs a Facebook page called Vanishing Boise, pointed the council to a High Country News article on Fort Collins, Colorado, which some argue grew too big too quickly.
“All I’m saying is you go growth neutral,” Dicaire encouraged the council. “You don’t subsidize, you don’t give incentives to growth, you make sure it pays its fair share.”
Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg challenged that, pointing out that Boise takes the full one-time impact fees the city is allowed by state law to impose on developers based on the impact new developments will have on local or regional parks, the police system or the fire response system. Those fees can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new house.
For some residents living on the far edges of the town, however, it feels like fees aren’t being used in the right places. In the South Cole neighborhood, one resident asked for improvements to local parks including playgrounds.
A resident from the North West neighborhood requested the city put an emphasis on filling the gap in city fire coverage that exists in that part of town. Boise has an agreement with Eagle to cover the area, but residents argue that when an emergency takes place, every second matters. Coverage has been a flash point in the fight over the proposed 286-unit Prominence subdivision along West Hill Road Parkway between Duncan and Bogart lanes.
The council took no action on the budget Tuesday. The final vote on the budget is anticipated to be Aug. 27.
The 2020 fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and taxes are due Dec. 20.
Business Editor David Staats contributed.