Guest Opinions

Why should Idaho taxpayers pay twice over courtrooms?

As elected leaders of Meridian, Garden City, Boise, Kuna, Star and Eagle, we feel it is our duty to inform our residents about a looming threat over those living in Meridian and Garden City. It is a serious issue and will affect the taxpayers in those cities, and eventually taxpayers in Kuna, Star and Eagle.

Ada County sued Meridian and Garden City to add a courtroom in each of their cities because of an old 1994 court order. In 1996, when the cities and counties asked the citizens to support a consolidated courtroom, and they did, the order should have immediately become null and void. The new consolidated courthouse opened in 2002 on Front Street in Boise, paid for each year by all citizens of Ada County.

While commissioners are blaming their irrational request on an old court order, what they really want is money. The county commissioners are now saying that Meridian and Garden City need to pay them to use the courthouse — something that is already paid for and funded by your county taxes.

Currently Kuna, Star and Eagle are not being asked to supply the same facility or pay the additional taxes, but we know that request will be made soon. It became apparent in a KTVB interview when the reporter asked Ada County Commissioner Jim Tibbs whether the other cities would have to pay. His response was “at some point they will.”

Meridian and Garden City have been trying to work with Ada County commissioners to find a resolution that works for everyone. Meridian offered court space to the county when the city was building a new City Hall, and the county declined. Then both Meridian and Garden City offered in 2012 to ask the Legislature to change the court fees that support the courts, and the county declined that as well. Meridian and Garden City participated in mediation with the county but there was no resolution.

The city of Boise has a completely different agreement with the county for a different fee, one that was agreed upon well before the courthouse was built. It is not the same fee that Meridian and Garden City are being asked for today.

Again, county commissioners just want more taxpayer money and they think this old court order is the way they can get it. In reality, the court order isn’t about money, it is about having court facilities in two additional cities. Asking Meridian and Garden City taxpayers to provide unnecessary court facilities is unjust, and a waste of taxpayer dollars, particularly since the courthouse on Front Street is not being used at maximum capacity.

If the commissioners want to target how much the two cities use the courthouse, there are stats to prove that taxpayers in those communities are already more than covering their fair share. One example: The city of Meridian has a courthouse caseload of 17 percent and roughly 60 percent of those cases are non-Meridian residents. Still, Meridian residents pay 20 percent of the county tax revenues.

It is our hope that Ada County commissioners will join the cities of Meridian and Garden City in an effort to resolve this issue at a hearing in the next few months, when it will be presented before 11 district judges. Let us come together as one group, all the cities, and one county. Taxpayers, whether in cities or unincorporated areas, are already paying for courts through their county taxes. If funding isn’t adequate to cover costs, this is a countywide issue and the commissioners should treat all equally.

Tammy de Weerd is Meridian mayor and John Evans is Garden City mayor. Contributing authors are Dave Bieter, Boise mayor; Joe Steer, Kuna mayor; Chad Bell, Star mayor; and Stan Ridgeway, Eagle mayor.