City of Boise gives green light to 2020 budget with service & tax increase

The City of Boise is marching ahead with its new budget packed with dozens of new employees, investments in affordable housing, more police officers, and a tax increase. 

Boise City Council held a public hearing on its fiscal year 2022 budget Tuesday night before the $662 million in expenses got the green light. This budget, with a $276.2 million general fund, is a return to growing the city’s spending after a year of no increase to property tax collections and cutbacks due to COVID-19 in 2020.

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What’s in it?

It includes 44 new positions in various departments, including Boise Police for more patrols, Planning & Development Services to keep up with the deluge of development applications, and internal needs for finance, IT, and more prosecuting attorneys. The city is also taking funds once set aside for a dramatic new main library branch and using it for affordable housing and investing in projects focused on climate change and funds toward a new fire station in Northwest Boise. 

McLean’s budget also takes the 3% property tax increase allowed under Idaho State Code. Boise Budget Manager Eric Bilimoria told the City Council the average Boise home, valued at $440,000, will see a 29% property tax increase this year. The bulk of the increase, from $1,121.79 to $1,457.08 is a result of Governor Brad Little’s one-time tax relief program expiring, the ongoing property tax shift from commercial to residential and the decline in the value of the $125,000 homeowner’s exemption. 

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Bilimoria said if the city did not take the 3% increase, it would save the average homeowner $42 this year. The increase would also carry forth to future years.

This budget also takes into account the new property tax reform bill passed by the Idaho Legislature in the waning days of the 2021 session. This bill caps property tax increases for local governments to 8% annually, changes the new construction formula and reduces new construction taxes to 90%. Bilimoria’s staff estimates this will reduce property tax collections by $7.5 million over the next five years.

‘You are spending money recklessly’

Two residents came out to testify on the budget, and neither of them were pleased with the spending hike.

Northwest Boise resident Erika Schofield acknowledged the relatively small amount homeowners would save if the city did not take the 3%, but she said when you combine that figure with all of the other expenses Boiseans have it makes an impact. She noted proposals from the Ada County Highway District to hike taxes, increased homeowners and car insurance, sewer increases, and a rate hike from Suez. 

She suggested the city back down from its plans to give raises to city employees as a way to cut spending.

“All of this adds to the cost of living here, not just this 42 dollars,” she said. “How do you mitigate this? This is the political hot potato: Reduce the legacy expectation of the 3% increase for the cost of living for staff. It’s not unreasonable that it should be reduced.”

Wendy Dahl, a southwest Boise resident, was incensed at the proposed budget. During her testimony, she admonished city council members repeatedly for overspending and for the “insatiable appetite of government.”

“In an effort to be a citizen, which I’m actively engaged in and I do stay engaged and I will continue to stay engaged, I hope every one of you is voted out of office because you’re not doing your job,” she said. “You are spending money recklessly.”

Council Members back budget

Boise City Council Members stepped up to strongly defend their budget after the hearing.

City Council Member Holli Woodings said she started her time on council very skeptical of the amount of staff the City of Boise employs and the amount spent on their salaries and benefits, but after watching the city work from the inside she has come to appreciate the need for more people. She acknowledged the large size of the budget increase this year, but she contended it was necessary to meet Boise’s growing needs.

“We’re growing,” she said. “Our city is growing and with that comes more people and with that comes stress on so many of our departments. Our departments have been working overtime to ensure they are able to meet the needs of our community and it’s not sustainable.”

City Council President Elaine Clegg pointed to the same increase in demand for services, as well as changes in policy at the Idaho Legislature that she said have made it more difficult to provide relief for homeowners.

“We have a legislature that continues to offer exemptions to business owners and not offer those same levels of exemptions to homeowners, which has continued to exacerbate the gap between what homeowners pay and what businesses pay in property taxes,” Clegg said. “It’s a really tough position to be in.”

City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton defended several aspects of the budget, including the investments in affordable housing, more reforms and resources for the Boise Police Department and increases for staff so they can continue to stay in Boise as rents rise.

“When I read this book, and I go through, I see a narrative that talks about our cities belief in our staff and that people and programs,” he said. “To serve the biggest needs in our community means we need to invest in the people we’ve got and ensure we have the resources they need and other personnel to get those jobs done.”