By Lindsay Atkinson | SMART Boise project leader
Boise mayoral candidates have an incredible opportunity to engage with city residents, and propose solutions to tackle some of the foremost problems that Boiseans face. Such problems include rising property taxes, misplaced city budget priorities, the pursuit of big-budget projects with limited resident input, and more.
With less than a month before the November 5 election, seven candidates have entered the mayoral race: Mayor Dave Bieter, City Councilor Lauren McLean, Ada County Highway District Commissioner Rebecca Arnold, former mayor Brent Coles, Adriel Martinez, Cortney Nielsen, and Wayne Richey.
SMART Boise reached out to each mayoral candidate with questions submitted by our readers. Five of the seven candidates responded by the deadline: Rebecca Arnold, Brent Coles, Adriel Martinez, Cortney Nielsen, and Wayne Richey.
We asked them to answer as many of the following questions as they would like. Here are their responses.
If you are elected to office, how will you hold property taxes in check to help make housing more affordable?
“My first order of business will be to analyze the budget and each department at the city to determine where tax dollars are being wasted, eliminate the wasteful spending, and to identify departments, if any, which might be underfunded. I will set the next budget at a level that does not include any increases in property taxes and, depending on the outcome of the analysis, determine whether we can cut property taxes in the next budget cycle.”
“First, I would freeze the budget to the 2018 level and ask all department heads to look for ways to save money and manage the public’s money efficiently. We would cancel the work being done by outside consultants and use our city staff and Boise State University to do research as needed. I would cancel the $11 million architect’s contract for the library and cancel the $104 million project. We would not move the Log Cabin at an expense of $600,000. There are many more examples of what we would do to reduce costs which ultimately means we will not need to take the three percent [tax increase]. I would ask the Idaho State Legislature to increase the homeowner’s exemption so people can stay in their homes. This will help home affordability in a major way. The city is currently spending $300,000 on lobbying. The most effective lobbyists should be the mayor and council members.”
“I will freeze property taxes at the minimum for my whole term as mayor if elected to office. I will find other ways to make money for the city government.”
“I’m running for mayor, and I’m not your typical candidate. My only goal is to lower the cost of housing. The invasion of new people moving here has got to stop. Long-time residents cannot afford to live here anymore. I would also love to completely restructure our property tax system. If you live here 60 years, you pay nothing; 20 years and your taxes would stay the same. Move here from another state and buy a half-million-dollar home and you will make up the difference.”
Will your tax policy include taking the full three percent property tax increase allowed by law each year?
“No. The three percent allowed by law should only be taken when there is an identified need that cannot be met through other funding sources.”
“Each department in the city would be required to reduce their spending requests so we would not need the three percent.”
“I will not go for the full three percent and will cap property taxes at one percent.”
Author’s Note: Under state law, cities can only raise the combined city property taxes by a maximum of three percent each year. However, there are other factors in the grander tax equation that lead to taxes growing more rapidly than just three percent. For instance, the rising appraised value of homes has made it so tax collection by the city of Boise has actually increased by an average of 4.9 percent each year for the past five years.
What would your top two budget priorities be?
“Eliminating wasteful spending and spending on ‘vanity projects’ such as the proposed ‘Taj Mahal’ library project, the proposed downtown stadium project, and Bieter’s rail streetcar. Analyzing the budget to determine where funds can be cut or transferred to areas that are underfunded, such as fire and police coverage.”
“The top priorities will be cutting costs, reducing taxes, helping people afford to stay in their homes. Then focus on the basic needs of city infrastructure, including supporting ways to reduce traffic congestion.”
“My top two budget priorities would be cutting back on excess spending and using the taxpayers’ money in a better, more efficient manner.”
“Twenty to thirty thousand people moving to the valley every year must stop. Schools, traffic, infrastructure, and resources, will never keep up. They have driven the price of homes so high that locals cannot afford to live here anymore. A $1,200 two-bedroom apartment is ridiculous. And a $345,000 starter home is not possible at current wages. We can’t stop outsiders from moving here, but we can make our city less attractive. I plan on doing whatever it takes to get us off everyone’s ‘Favorite top 10 cities’ list; impact fees, property taxes, whatever it takes. I realize this sounds drastic, but it needs to be done. What’s the point of having a wonderful city if our children can’t afford to live here anymore? We are in the middle of a crisis that requires immediate action. We can’t keep selling off our town to the highest bidder.”
What do you believe the role of urban renewal districts (URDs) are? And, if elected mayor, how will you select urban renewal commissioners?
“I am not a fan of urban renewal districts as I believe the tax funds that are diverted to URDs would be better utilized by the agencies that lose funding to the URDs. URD commissioners should have a level of independence from the city and should NOT include city officials.”
“The Urban Renewal District for Boise was used to develop the infrastructure for the mixed-use developments that have been achieved in downtown. It was the hope of many who started that project that once the heart of Boise was thriving then the Redevelopment Agency would cease to exist. Unfortunately, like almost all government agencies, they just do not go away. I would work to end the agency, as was the plan 20 years ago. The current mayor is using it to help fund his library. If the agency continues, I would be happy to have the commissioners elected. However, most often it is people from just one area of Boise that run. Maybe they could run from districts.”
“Urban renewal has been abused in Boise. Urban renewal is not supposed to be used to support stadiums and such. I would select urban renewal commissioners based upon their experience.”
“Urban renewal districts should be used to improve city centers for the taxpayer. They can improve the infrastructure of the city along with making the outer parts of the city better. I would not select the commissioners as they are now, they would be selected based on a very diverse application. I would want every type of socioeconomic class representing this commission.”
Author’s Note: The city of Boise and the city’s urban renewal agency (the Capital City Development Corporation) are two separate taxing entities that both collect money from Boiseans. Under state law, there are two ways that urban renewal commissioners can be selected for their positions: The mayor can appoint them, or the city council can pass an ordinance that makes all urban renewal commissioners be elected by residents. Currently, the Boise City Council has not passed such an ordinance, so all commissioners are appointed by the mayor (including a self-appointment whereby Mayor Bieter serves as Secretary-Treasurer of the commission).
What is your vision for Boise 10 years from now?
“I envision a Boise where our citizens enjoy transparency in government, with increased public input early and often in the process and where our citizens are served by elected officials who remember that their role is to serve the public. I also envision improvements to basic services, such as fire, law enforcement, and park facilities, so that all areas of Boise, including recently annexed areas, enjoy the same level of service and quality of life.”
“Our community is currently at a crossroads. The decisions we make today will shape Boise, and the Treasure Valley, for the next 10, 20, 30 years. The issues Boise is facing are not unique to just Boise. Traffic congestion is a regional issue, and we must think and work regionally to solve it. I envision a commuter train running on our railways in the next 10 years. Growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum and we must work with our valley partners to ensure responsible, well-managed growth. Additionally, I see lower taxes and greater affordability for our community, and enough police officers and firefighters to ensure the greatest capacity for safety within our community.”
“My vision for Boise in 10 years is that we will catch up with our growth and work for the people instead of the political oligarchy. Boise will be a Top 5 Northwest city along with being one of the best in the county. The citizens will not be overtaxed and the city will be more fiscally conservative.”
Note: SMART Boise edited candidate responses for typos.