To wake up in 2022 is to come face-to-face with any number of ongoing crises: inflation, skyrocketing home prices, labor shortages, declining mental health and crippling child care shortages.
All of those concerns played out at Boise City Hall this week as leaders fretted over the future of Boise, a city wracked with growing pains, its resources stretched thin by an ever-booming population.
City Council members sought to place some of the cost burden on homeowners with increases to their already significant property taxes.
But leaders have also received a boon the likes of which they may never see again. Called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” by Mayor Lauren McLean, they have decided to use the city’s $34 million in federal pandemic relief dollars to create new avenues through which the community’s most urgent needs can be addressed.
Property taxes? Still increasing
Property taxes are an important aspect of the annual city budget. They’re also a touchy subject for Boise homeowners who continue to find themselves shouldering an ever-growing portion of them.
That trend will likely continue in 2023: The average homeowner would see their base city property tax increase by 9.4% under the most recent budget proposal, according to Eric Bilimoria, the city budget manager.
A home valued at the current Boise average of $564,481 would see a $128 increase, said Bilimoria.
The increase would come from city leaders’ plan to take 2.45% of the 3% increase available to the City Council each year. State law allows local governments to take as much as a 3% increase in the property-tax portion of their budgets each year without requiring voter approval, plus any increase in revenue from new construction, annexation and expiring urban renewal districts. By forgoing the full raise, Council members would saved the average home owner $8.49.
Yet, even if the City Council elected to take a 0% increase, Boise homeowners’ taxes would still go up by about $90 as a result of residential property value growth outpacing that of commercial property.
In the past year, residential property values have increased by 29% and commercial by 19%, according to Bilimoria.
City Council Member Patrick Bageant pointed out that each year that shift in the burden accumulates in the budget, with the value difference in one year being added to the value difference from the prior year. Just two years ago, he noted, the value shift added about $35 to homeowners’ property taxes. This year, the accumulated amount adds close to $100.
“It’s not even death by a thousand cuts, it’s death by a thousand big whacks with a hatchet,” Bageant said. “...The burden shift is accumulative and wearing and worse every year.”
Full budget numbers for fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1, have not yet been released. The complete proposal will be presented publicly on June 17, and the public will get a chance to comment at a budget hearing on July 19.
Millions in rescue funds approved toward social programs
One year after receiving $36.9 million in federal pandemic relief, the City Council approved plans for more than $34 million at the executive session on Tuesday afternoon.
The City Council voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed plan. Voting against it, Luci Willits said she was concerned about funding these programs once the ARPA money ran out.
“Even if all of these ideas are exceptional, I am concerned about what will happen long-term,” Willits said.
McLean said city staff spent months gathering community feedback on residents’ needs to create the funding plan.
“I was struck by how nuanced, in many of the ways, those needs were,” McLean said. “But also, despite the different populations and differing neighborhoods that showed up to talk, how similar those needs were.”
Here’s how the approved plan shook out:
$12 million to affordable housing
This funding will go toward the city’s goal of adding 1,250 affordable housing units, as well as 250 units for homeless residents.
$10 million to climate action
The second biggest portion will go to climate action. Actions outlined in the city’s climate plan include expanding the city’s geothermal heating system, purchasing more renewable electricity, turning seven buildings fully electric and expanding surface water use in irrigation.
$3.75 million to child care
A new project will will provide additional pay to childcare workers and providers to incentive more people to join and remain in the field, as well as reduce city licensing burdens and facilitate coordination with the state. The city hopes this will increase child care facilities and lower costs to parents.
$2 million to park technology
Funding will go to adding lighting, security cameras, defibrillators, WiFi hot spots, charging stations and internet access ports to city parks.
$2 million to small business
This summer, the city will open applications to small businesses for a program to help them pay employees a “livable wage.”
$2 million to mental health:
Another couple of million will increase group therapy options and help mental health providers serve more “underserved and uninsured people.”
$1.5 million to food security:
The city will create a project to address families facing hunger. It will work with local programs, create a central community food hub, transport food to different areas of the city and combat food waste.
City to increase staff, increase pay
Before it can complete its new goals, the city needs the staff to do it.
The city wants to hire 81.5 more full time employees through its general and enterprise funds, including 25 Boise Airport staff members to accommodate an anticipated record-setting 2,077,000 visitors. In 2022, Boise had about 1,893 full-time employees.
“The No. 1 priority if you were to ask all the directors we have in the room and likely all of our senior managers and probably everyone is our need to stabilize (the city’s) workforce,” Courtney Washburn, McLean’s chief of staff, told the council members at the beginning of the strategy session.
Washburn noted that hiring will come at a time when labor shortages are soaring, but hopes raising wages in light of the rising cost of living will help overcome that.
The proposed budget would raise all city wages by 5.9% and raise the city’s minimum wage from $13.53 to $16.15. Merit-based raises would increase from 2% to 4.5%. The highest merit-based wage in the past has been 3%.