By Wayne Hoffman | SMART Boise
If you’re a candidate for public office and you’re not talking about property taxes, what’s wrong with you? Especially in the state’s largest city, being a candidate for mayor in Boise must naturally necessitate answering questions about the rapidity and unsustainability of annual property tax increases.
The issue is fair game, the No. 1 issue for the last couple of years has been Mayor Dave Bieter’s obsession with two gargantuan legacy projects whose expense would be borne by already overtaxed city residents: a $105 million library and a $40 million sports stadium.
RELATED: SMART Boise report details more than $144 million in wasteful spending by Boise City Hall. Download your free copy here.
Bieter claims the library project is on hold due to costs, but millions have already been sunk into the project; if he’s re-elected, it’s easy to predict that the project will magically reclaim a top billing on the city government’s to-do list. Same with Bieter’s decade-long obsession with re-establishing a trolley in the city’s downtown.
If anyone believes that ground has been so well-covered it doesn’t require candidate and voter discussion, there’s no shortage of vomitous spending extravagance at City Hall still deserving of scrutiny. Examples of extravagant Boise City Hall spending are many, among them: funding for a gay men’s choir; swanky condos in Boise; city employee excursions to African parks; costs for a government-backed social media propaganda school; and a growing list of money-losing city enterprises that includes golf courses, a city ice skating rink, and a farm in Kuna.
There are as yet unaddressed questions about Bieter’s handling of a voter-approved property tax levy for open spaces, which the city “forgot” to collect. As a mayoral candidate seeking another term, Bieter should explain to voters how his administration botched cost estimates for fire station renovations and upgrades. The city originally projected work would cost $17 million; in the end, the city spent more than $34 million on the upgrades and renovations.
Sadly, news stories about the mayoral race have done little to expose spending problems or address taxpayers’ concerns. Reporters have not called on Bieter to address his spend thriftiness, even as he parades out new ideas that will further burden property owners. Instead, reporters myopically fawn over him and the fulfillment of his boyhood dream to be mayor, a dream that has extended itself through the last 16 years.
And so far, the candidates have been asked little about property taxes, save the survey from Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Smart Boise project. But candidate Bieter and city council president Lauren McLean, also running for mayor, didn’t bother to answer the five-questions SMART Boise survey.
Candidates who did respond provided interesting comments.
Mayoral candidates Rebecca Arnold and Brent Coles offered to put spending under a microscope and keep property taxes in check. Said Arnold, “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.” Coles said he’d freeze spending, cancel work being done on the library, and “each department in the city would be required to reduce their spending requests so we would not need the three percent” annual property tax increase allowed by state law. Candidate Adriel Martinez didn’t directly address spending, but he did promise to contain taxes.
These outsider candidates’ answers offer an interesting perspective on a problem that has the entire city talking — even if Bieter, McLean, and the media aren’t. The stultifying growth in property taxes is a growing problem in which Boise has all the appearances of being a nice place to live, if the people presently in charge didn’t blithely exacerbate the rise in taxes that make it so unaffordable to live there.
That seems to be an issue worthy of a lot more discussion between now and the Nov. 5 election.