Guest Opinions

Economic development, fair, jail space: Good days are ahead for Canyon County

Hogs-N-Mud Wrestling competition at the Canyon County Fair in Caldwell in 2012.
Hogs-N-Mud Wrestling competition at the Canyon County Fair in Caldwell in 2012.

The new year is upon us, and there are many blessings for which we can be grateful, and challenges that need answers in the coming year.

Last year’s Canyon County Fair was a whopping success. The county invested a significant amount of money in correcting long-deferred maintenance items in the fair building and also accomplished significant upgrades to the building that were greatly appreciated by fair-goers. Yes, it is still packed, but the Fair Director Diana Sinner has some excellent ideas for alleviating crowding in the coming years. Moreover, there is a sense of optimism and synergy generated by the partnership and cooperation of the city of Caldwell, the Caldwell Night Rodeo, The College of Idaho and county leadership in developing the space available to the benefit of all. Good days are ahead.

Canyon County is experiencing steady success in economic development efforts. The cities of Nampa and Caldwell have seen strong industrial growth, both in new businesses and in the expansion of existing businesses. I have long maintained the only truly sustainable way of accomplishing meaningful property tax relief is by increasing the tax base through economic development. The Legislature paved the way for increased economic growth by giving us the ability to offer reduced property taxes to businesses considering major investments in Idaho. The thresholds to qualify for these incentives are clearly defined in both state statute and county ordinance, as are the limitations of the exemptions. Since its adoption by the Legislature, this tool has been used by Canyon County to great advantage. Over $300 million has been added to the tax base under this program.

Some question the use of these exemptions, believing it creates undue burden on taxing entities who rely on those taxes. I see it differently. The incentives are aimed at landing businesses considering multiple locations. Our surrounding states are highly competitive in efforts to attract these same companies, and before the exemption tool was available in Idaho, were successfully winning the majority of them. The incentive tool, as used in Canyon County, allows for up to a 75 percent exemption for a maximum of 5 years. Qualifying factors include the amount of money invested in new construction, the number of jobs created and pay levels of those jobs, among others.

Upon qualifying for the incentive, the business will still pay from 25 percent to 50 percent of property taxes on their new investment. If a company chooses to locate in another state, the county would see no new taxes. Simple math tells me 25 percent of $300 million dollars of investment is more than 100 percent of nothing. At the end of the exemption period, the business will pay the full amount of tax due on their assessed value.

Some of the first incentives granted are reaching the end of their exemption periods and will greatly add to the tax base from here on out. A broader tax base equals a lower tax levy for all taxpayers. That is one of the goals of economic development that benefits all county residents, and it is in addition to the growth in jobs and services available. We are moving in the right direction!

As to challenges, primary is how to meet the need for jail space in Canyon County. We have simply outgrown our current facilities and can no longer kick the can down the road without risking public safety. We received a strategic needs analysis from the DLR Group in November that outlines the issues our county is facing regarding jail space. It gives an in-depth look at current and future population and inmate numbers, and provides recommendations for the number and type of jail beds we need for the next 20-plus years. The study is available on the county website, and I encourage everyone to read it.

Meantime, we will be requesting information from other national correctional experts. Specifically, using the data generated from the DLR study, what alternatives can they offer to meet the identified needs? At the same time, we are exploring all available funding options.

Lastly, we want efforts to address the jail crisis to be open and transparent. We are in the process of planning additional public outreach that will include numerous town hall-type meetings across the county to discuss the information and options. We want citizens to fully understand the complexities of the jail issue. Together, we can determine the best path forward.

Tom Dale is a Canyon County commissioner.