BOISE — Ada County Highway District Commission President Rebecca Arnold is hoping to take the helm of Idaho’s largest city.
Last week, Arnold was the last of seven candidates to file paperwork seeking Boise’s highest office. She’s hoping to knock off longtime incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter with a campaign focused on lower property taxes, a retreat from large capital projects such as the main library renovation, and more city funds for public safety.
Arnold said she had been hearing from people across the political spectrum, telling her to run.
“The reason (people encouraged me to run is) they are tired of Dave Bieter and his attitude towards the public and his lack of transparency,” she said. “There’s way too much that’s gone on behind a veil and that’s not playing well.”
Arnold, a licensed attorney, was first elected to ACHD in 2004. She’s also worked as a certified public accountant and real estate agent, but her licenses are currently lapsed. She attended Murray State University in Kentucky for both her undergraduate degree in business and her MBA, and went on to earn her law degree at the Washington University School of Law.
One of her chief concerns is the city taking the maximum 3% property tax increase in recent years. Arnold said the city should back off on increasing taxes that much, and should tighten spending to keep the burden off taxpayers.
“When you have people who have been in their homes for 30 years who have to sell their home because they’re on a fixed income and they can no longer afford to pay their taxes on their home, something needs to change,” she said. “Boise seems to have this attitude that they are entitled to raise property tax the maximum amount allowed under law every single year.”
Arnold said keeping property taxes as low as possible will help residents weather the growing affordability crisis in Idaho. She also pointed to the need to increase wages overall in Boise to help people better cope with rising rent, which she said the city of Boise should take the lead on by increasing its pay for employees at the bottom of the pay scale.
“(At ACHD) we looked at our hourly employees; if we had some that were too low, we raised them. So now the only people at ACHD who make less than $12 an hour, if you put them on a 40-hour-a-week work schedule, are the commissioners,” she said. “Even $12 dollars an hour isn’t terrific, but it’s better than minimum wage.”
The average hourly wage for Boise city employees is $28.30 for full-time employees, and $15.22 for part-time workers, according to an Idaho Press analysis of employment data.
Arnold also said she opposes what she calls Bieter’s “vanity projects,” such as the proposal to build a light rail circulator in downtown Boise and the $85 million main library renovation project that’s on hold because of cost overruns. She maintains the city could have built a new library for less money, with fewer disruptions to the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and the historic log cabin next door, by hiring a local architect.
“We have some wonderful architects in this city and in this state who could have designed a library for a much lower price and a much better product because they understand our community, our lifestyles, our values,” she said.
When asked about public transit, Arnold described Valley Regional Transit’s bus system as broken. She said the city should focus on rebuilding a better system, instead of dedicating more and more general fund dollars to it before reform.
“It just isn’t cost-effective, it’s not convenient for people to ride the bus, and as a result you see a lot of big empty buses driving around,” she said. “I think we need to take a fresh look at how public transit should work.”
Funding public transit is a thorny issue in Idaho. There’s no dedicated state fund for public transportation, and cities do not have local option taxing authority to ask voters to approve a special sales tax to fund transit. Bieter and Arnold agree that the authority for cities is essential for improving public transportation in Boise, and Arnold said she is more equipped to get the job done because of her rapport with state lawmakers.
“We need to have somebody who is willing to work with the Legislature in a positive manner and try to get some things accomplished, instead of somebody who viewed them as the enemy,” she said. “I’m not going to say that I could do that, but I certainly have the ability to have a conversation with the leadership of the Legislature along that path.”
Arnold is facing off with Bieter, City Council President Lauren McLean, former Boise Mayor Brent Coles, Adriel Martinez, Cortney Nielsen and Wayne Richey.