What mayoral candidates think about your taxes — and what they want to do about it

Boise mayoral candidates met once again Thursday night to sound off on some of the biggest issues the city faces in the next several years.

They discussed many of the same issues as in previous debates with no notable change in stance, including clean air, the proposed multi-million-dollar library once planned to be built where the current main facility is as well as the city’s ordinance banning camping in public.

One issue where candidates differentiated themselves, however, was on taxes.

Even before moderator Gemma Gaudette, host of Idaho Matters on Boise State Public Radio, began to ask about taxes, candidates made clear that taxes were on their mind.

In his opening statements, Wayne Richey said he’d use property taxes to help slow growth (although he did not clarify how). Former mayor Brent Coles followed suit when he made a point to mention how he felt Boiseans were being taxed out of their homes, promising to stop increasing taxes if elected. Rebecca Arnold, president of the Ada County Highway District commission, also brought up property tax increases in her opening statements, saying she felt that the city needed to cut spending and taking a hit at the proposed library.

All the candidates took a crack at taxes when Gaudette asked the candidates that, if they were elected and the city opted not take the full 3% tax increase allowed by law each year, would they support a binding resolution to stop clawbacks. Clawbacks, also known as forgone taxes, are taxes an agency does not collect in a given year but instead collects in the future, as allowed by Idaho law. (At the moment, Boise does not have forgone taxes to pursue as it collects the full 3% tax increase Idaho law allows.)

The question went first to Arnold, who said she would support such a resolution. Coles agreed, saying he “couldn’t believe cities and the county would claw back money.” He went on to say he would not take the full 3% tax increase allowed by Idaho law if elected.

Richey said he felt the tax system needed an overhaul to base taxes on how long people have lived in the area, forcing growth to pay for itself. When pressed by Gaudette, he said he hadn’t given a thought to clawbacks. Cortney Nielsen said she felt the city needed to “let go of the past and move forward” instead of collecting clawbacks. Adriel Martinez agreed, saying he would cap property tax growth at 1% for four years and that he wouldn’t collect forgone taxes.

Bieter criticized other candidates for saying that they wouldn’t raise taxes to pay for better public transportation, saying he was not going to lie about that but that it was important to elect people who seek good value on their money. He did not specifically answer about clawbacks. McLean also did not answer the question about forgone taxes but said that if the city were not allowed to collect the 3%, it would be forced to make cuts. She used Ada County, which is struggling to find room in its morgue or jail and recently opted to collect forgone taxes, as an example.

Candidates also talked about taxes broadly, primarily in terms of where they felt taxpayer money was not being used well. Martinez called the camping ordinance (and the city’s attempt to take it to the Supreme Court) “wasteful.” Arnold said she felt that building public housing projects was “a huge burden on the taxpayers.” In a question about medical marijuana, multiple candidates said they felt criminalizing those who used or were caught with marijuana was a bad use of tax money.

In an audience-submitted question, a retiree said that they were struggling to afford their “ever-increasing property taxes” and asked candidates if the city would be affordable 10 years from now. Seniors across the Treasure Valley have had similar problems.

Bieter pointed to the state legislature capping the homeowner’s exemption at $100,000 as part of the reason that taxes have gone up, alongside the fact that the tax burden is more on residential taxes than before. Arnold said she wanted people to be able to stay in her home and that she wanted to see the exemption indexed to the housing market. She said the only way to truly control taxes, however, was to control spending, and Martinez agreed.

Coles encouraged voters to support candidates who outright would stop the 3% increase and that he would lobby the state legislature to increase the homeowner’s exemption. Saying she had heard similar stories to the one from the person who posed the question, McLean said she felt that working with the legislature was important and that she also wanted to increase awareness of tax relief programs and make sure that developers pay impact fees to help pay for growth.

The election is Nov. 5.

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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.