Managing growth and the cost of maintaining an infrastructure to support that growth were the main topics of conversations that the Gem County Commissioners were immersed in at the Idaho Association of Counties annual meetings Sept. 23-25.

For Gem County Commission Chair Bryan Elliott it’s not a matter of whether there is growth, it is “managing the growth that is going to occur here.”

Elliott pointed to a reluctance of much of Idaho to make a transition from an agriculture based society to a more diverse economic base.

“As a whole I think Idaho has thought it was an exception to what has been going on across the country for a long time,” Elliott said. “We thought we would never be a California or face many of the issues they have. A lot of planning for that has been missed. The reality is that people have to have somewhere to live and they are looking for a better place to live.”

Managing that anticipated continuing influx of people to this area is going to remain a challenge.

The Gem County commissioners are in the final stages of approving a consulting contract with a firm to advise them on changes that can be made to the current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and possible addition of impact fees and other new revenue sources. Five firms applied for the contract to provide those consulting services and two finalists have been interviewed. A decision on the contract is on the commission agenda for Tuesday, Oct. 8.

Elliott emphasized “finding a way for growth to pay for itself.”

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But he acknowledged that “it’s probably illegal, and certainly unreasonable, to expect new development to pay the full freight for infrastructure needs that are already in place.”

The Cost of Infrastructure

At the head of the infrastructure discussions at the IAC meeting are roads.

Idaho Governor Brad Little addressed the 300 plus county officials in attendance at the meetings in Boise. He reported that estimates the state has received indicate that it would take perhaps $7 billion to bring Idaho roads up to date.

Gem County Road and Bridge director Neal Capps puts the cost for Gem County maintained roads at about $220 million. That is based on current reconstruction costs for road bed and paving at about $1 million per mile. That does not include costs of potential major redesigns, reroutes, or reconfigurations of county traffic patterns some see becoming necessary. It also does not include City of Emmett streets and roads or the highways within the county that are the jurisdiction of the Idaho Department of Transportation.

The new fiscal year budget for Gem County Road and Bridge is just under $3 million.

In addition to funding mechanisms for infrastructure revitalization the commissioners are confronting additional growth and quality of life related issues. A long-discussed oil and gas drilling ordinance is apparently reaching a stage where it may be presented for public comment before the end of this year.

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