Boise mayoral candidates: Perspectives on taxes, urban renewal, and budget priorities

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. 

Related: City Hall is wasting your hard-earned property tax dollars. Click here to see how.

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? 

Rebecca Arnold

“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.”

Brent Coles

“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.”

Adriel Martinez 

“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.”

Wayne Richey

“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?

Rebecca Arnold

“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.”

Brent Coles

“Each department in the city would be required to reduce their spending requests so we would not need the three percent.”

Adriel Martinez 

“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?

Rebecca Arnold

“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.”

Brent Coles

“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.”

Adriel Martinez 

“My top two budget priorities would be cutting back on excess spending and using the taxpayers’ money in a better, more efficient manner.”

Wayne Richey

“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?

Rebecca Arnold

“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.”

Brent Coles

“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.”

Cortney Nielsen

“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.”

Adriel Martinez 

“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?

Rebecca Arnold

“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.”

Brent Coles

“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.”

Adriel Martinez 

“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.

12 thoughts on “Boise mayoral candidates: Perspectives on taxes, urban renewal, and budget priorities

  1. Many of the candidates answers sound like they see a problem and are committed to finding a solution. Of them Mr. Richey seems to have the firmest grasp of the magnitude of the problem. I wonder how many of the candidates have read “Are You Kidding Me Boise”? I’m thinking not many, because that study would give a candidate a very target rich environment to go against with a ton of specifics of where to hunt for spending waste.

  2. I’m glad Rebecca Arnold is running. From what I’m reading here, she’s the kind of common sense mayor Boise needs. Today is the first time I’m hearing about her candidacy. Her priorities align with my own.

  3. It’s about time we can hear and read the candidates opinions and plans. Thank you! That liberal rag that calls itself a newspaper does little but endorse the present mayor and he’s done enough damage — we don’t need a 5th term.

  4. Yes. Thank you for this. The only thing that keeps this race from becoming a ‘beauty contest’ is the exposure of the issues and where each person stands. This was helpful.

  5. “Mr. Richey seems to have the firmest grasp of the magnitude of the problem”-you really agree with him? You hate your city so much you want to trash it for your family, friends, and this city’s kids? Why should we be punished because someone can’t learn to live with others? Seems like everyone is forgetting what Jesus taught about loving thy neighbor! Transplants are NOT the problem. The problem lies with officials who don’t put a cap on rent or raise the minimum wage, and realtors who set the price of the property so high. The great thing about this country is we are free to move where we want. People need to get over it (and before you say I’m a Californian, hate to burst your bubble but I’m a Native). I’m proud of my city and when we’re on these lists.

  6. I cannot take Wayne Richey seriously as a candidate. He has no experience with city council or matters of this kind, and he is also running on a platform of hate. I am a native and I’m very proud of my city and state, and I always welcome new people with open arms. Transplants aren’t to blame for the problems our city faces; its officials who won’t put a cap on rent or raise the minimum wage, or make affordable housing actually affordable. Making our city “undesirable” doesn’t sit right with many of us. Why should us and our children be punished because someone can’t learn to live with others? It’s also in violation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 13: right to freedom of movement. (You have the right to move or visit other cities and areas in your country, and you have the right to legally visit other countries.)
    Not only has this candidate skipped several forums for the mayoral candidates (unprofessional in my book) he is also against public transport because “he has never seen anyone riding the bus” and libraries because “you can google anything”. He also wants to raise taxes for the transplants, no matter their age, based on how long they have been living here-is that even legal? It would be interesting to see how he feels about other issues our city is facing like the homelessness, taking care of our vets and mentally ill, raising the minimum wage, and keeping protections for LGBTQ. He has yet to address anything of the sort besides blaming Californians. That’s not the sort of candidate I can get behind.
    My work entails talking with many people throughout the city, and when his name has come up I have yet to meet anyone who spoke in his favor of his campaign. I don’t have all the answers for how to fix our city, but I know it’s not going to be solved by xenophobia and inexperience.

    1. The invasion of new people to this state have driven property values so high that our friends and family can no longer afford to live here. How can you possibly be okay with this. Are you seriously looking out for Californians more than your kids. If you have a better answer I’m listening. Go listen to my Boise State public radio interview

  7. I think the basic minimums a candidate must have down to be mayor in the Boise of today (not 15 years ago, even though that’s be nice) is that we have a massive influx of people moving here. It brings its challenges. It brings its frustrations. It brings problem Boise today isn’t currently equipped to handle. Throwing up jazz hands and making it sound like it’s just a camp fire we can “scootch in a bit and get close” around is putting your head planted firmly in the sand. But also getting severely angry and screaming “kick em all out” isn’t nearly the answer either. Being on the extreme of both ends is the issue. I’ve met and talked to people from California, Minnesota and New York that have moved to Idaho. They all had similar stories. All very centeristic stories. Just folks trying to provide lives for their kids, that one day their kids can afford. Can you blame them? Not even. As much as I struggle all the time with the idea that these folks might bring their blue values and big money and alter Idaho. I also am full of compassion and understanding as to what they left to get something we have. That’s what makes this city and state so amazing. For now we have extremely low crime, great values, access to nature at our fingertips and presently affordability with the exception of the crazy home prices. But as I said “for now”. So the real candidate will be able focus on balance. Somehow coming up with “give and takes” because that’s the issue we deal with on a national level. Too far right and too far left. Most people are decent good people looking for the best possible place to have families. The best candidate will start looking for incremental measures we can take now and will pay off in the future that won’t infringe on peoples pursuit of happiness. Wether those people are from New York, California or Lebanon. I don’t want to see Boise lose what makes it the #1 or 2 city to live in/move to every year trying to prevent people moving here.

    Infrastructure needs to sped up and put in place to deal with growth that’s here already and predicted to be here.

    Legal and ethical policies need to be discussed to slightly curb growth. Especially in respect to developing communities where the highest home prices are lower than the median home price.

    Education / treatment of teachers (pay increases) should be a topic up for debate; how do we increase the quality of education in the city.

    I say at the minimum absolutely vote Mr Beiter out because this all falls directly on his shoulders. He truly FAILED to plan for this.

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