Should local taxes be raised? Can growth be slowed? Ada County commissioners debate

Darin Oswald/doswald@idahostatesman.com

With the midterm elections just one month away, two topics seem to be on residents’ minds: taxes and growth. These concerns were made apparent during an Ada County commissioner forum on Thursday when residents grilled candidates.

The candidates all seemed to express concern over the possibility of raising taxes and how best to manage growth. But each had different ideas about how to do it.

The virtual forum was put on by the City Club of Boise, the League of Women Voters of Idaho and, Boise State Public Radio’s Idaho Matters program. Listeners sent in questions for the candidates to answer.

Would you raise taxes? If so, would you raise them the maximum amount of 3%?

DISTRICT 1 in northwest Ada County

Rod Beck, Republican

Beck noted that the county commissioners have not raised taxes in recent years. They cut $12 million in taxes last year and did not raise the property taxes.

He said they couldn’t cut taxes again this year — which he blamed on supply chain issues, inflation and gas prices — but pointed out that they were not raised.

Beck said the board is trying to implement impact fees and is in the negotiation phase with Boise officials who want affordable housing to be wrapped into the deal.

State law allows local governments to charge the fees on new construction to offset the cost to taxpayers of growth and development.

Stan Ridgeway, Democrat

Ridgeway noted that recent county tax breaks were possible through the use of federal pandemic relief funds. He said it’s difficult to know whether raising taxes would be necessary in the future. Taxes would depend on the budget and county needs.

“I would have to look at that as as a commissioner and determine if we need up to the 3%,” Ridgeway said. “If we don’t need it, then we certainly wouldn’t take it.”

DISTRICT 3 in southern Ada County

Tom Dayley, Republican

Dayley said he would want to look into creative ways to prevent tax increases.

“Those are ways that we can look at increasing the revenue that’s already available to our taxpayers without actually raising it from the taxpayers of the county and still be able to provide the services that are necessary for the county,” Dayley said.

Patricia Nilsson, Democrat

Nilsson said one of the most important things she would like to do is implement impact fees, which could lessen the burden of Ada County taxpayers. She would want to get those implemented by the end of her first year and use them to expand the county jail.

“Every day we don’t have impact fees is every day we’re not having growth pay for itself,” Nilsson said.

Tony Jones, Independent

Jones said there is only so much control the commission has over the budget, because of the needs of the county highway district, sheriff’s office, coroner’s office and others.

“Keeping taxes low is an excellent goal,” Jones said. “But at the same time, the county is charged with providing services to its people. If you’re not providing those services, you’re not doing your job. So the ability to guarantee that taxes will go down sounds good in name, but may not actually be possible.”

How do you feel about growth? Do you want to slow growth to a more manageable level?

DISTRICT 1

Rod Beck, Republican

Beck said it is possible to stop growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. He said there was a time when the county had a moratorium on growth and it created serious problems.

“If you don’t have growth then you don’t provide enough jobs for your children, you don’t provide enough jobs for your family, ultimately,” Beck said. “So this stop growth is really a bad thing, because it kills your community.”

Stan Ridgeway, Democrat

Ridgeway disagreed with what he sees as local government’s mindset of “keep growing or die.” He thinks commissioners “need to take a really strong look at what they’re approving and offer some leadership.”

“If you’re going to keep allowing developers to develop our farmland into these huge subdivisions, you’re going to run out of money sooner or later, because those are all one-time fees,” Ridgeway said.

He also said the county should follow Boise’s lead to help develop more affordable housing.

DISTRICT 3

Tom Dayley, Republican

Dayley said growth needs to be managed successfully for the community’s survival. He expressed his desire to make sure farmland is protected as the area becomes more urban.

“We produce a lot of agricultural products and in the Treasure Valley, including seeds that go all over the world that raise crops all over the world, not just in Idaho,” Dayley said.

Patricia Nilsson, Democrat

Nilsson said local governments have been heavily invested in planning and managing growth. She believes it would help residents who are feeling shocked by growth to become more engaged in the planning process.

“I think that the more we understand where growth has been planned and where infrastructure has been placed, very expensive infrastructure, and then you get it to another altitude of what design we want to see so that I can still use and enjoy my property the way I want to.”

Tony Jones, Independent

Jones said growth is going to happen whether people like it or not. He thinks commissioners should be managing it in a way that means existing residents don’t end up subsidizing growth.

Five candidates, two seats up for grabs

With Commissioner Kendra Kenyon not seeking re-election, November’s election will determine whether Republicans will maintain control of the three-person board, the Idaho Statesman reported.

District 1’s Ryan Davidson, a Republican, is not running this year, meaning Democrats will have to win both seats if they want a majority vote.

The winning candidates will serve for two years. The three Ada County commissioners, made $117,550, or $56.51 hourly, in 2021.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.