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BOISE — The city of Boise, already Valley Regional Transit’s largest contributor, could change the way it contributes to the public transit system, tying it to the city’s growth.

City Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg is floating a proposal that would set Boise’s contribution to VRT as 5 percent of the city’s property tax revenue instead of a slowly increasing annual amount. This would mean the city’s contribution to public transit would rise alongside the city’s rapid growth, increasing services available to residents. Clegg is proposing a 5 percent contribution, but that could increase in the future.

“What this conversation is about is, should we set a target at 5 percent as a minimum? Is that the right target? Are we comfortable with adding the increases in the next couple of years to see what we can get, and by 2024 taking a look to see what other service enhancements might be on the horizon at the very least?” Clegg said in a city council discussion Tuesday.

This proposal will be discussed in greater detail next month as budget talks progress.

Since fiscal year 2013, the city has contributed $45.5 million to VRT and it has increased its annual contribution slightly each year to keep up with costs. In fiscal year 2019, the city gave $7.4 million to the transit system, which amounted to 4.2 percent of its property tax income. This percentage has fluctuated between 2.8 percent and 7.8 percent in the last six years.

Boise is far and away the largest funder of VRT, carrying nearly all of the agency’s $8.4 million budget last year. The second-largest contributor is the city of Nampa, which put in $442,507 last fiscal year. Caldwell comes in third, with $183,931 contributed, and Meridian comes fourth with $139,539 toward public transit.

In the discussion about the idea, council member TJ Thomson came out in support of Clegg, saying setting a 5 percent contribution level would help keep the city’s contribution to VRT more “stable” and in line with how the economy is growing.

On the other hand, Mayor Dave Bieter was skeptical. He said that while he understands the intent of what Clegg was going for, he is concerned that implementing this policy would lead to increases in funding during strong economic times and cutbacks during recessions when property values drop, and people are more in need of public transit.

“When the times get tougher, ridership is going to go up, and growth is going to go down during that time,” he said. “...Better services makes better ridership, too, but we’re going to set up a conflict to me that may not help the overall cause if we’re not careful.”

In response, Clegg said that if the city invests now when times are good, it could help make up for when the city needs to cut back in a recession.

“You’ve always said, ‘When the sun’s shining you ought to be building things and doing things,’” she said. “VRT’s never been able to do that because nobody’s ever given them more when the sun is shining. So part of this may be helping them build a system so when the clouds come, they have enough service to help those who need it.”

Margaret Carmel covers the city of Boise. Follow her on Twitter @mlcarmel or reach her by phone at 757-705-8066.

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