BOISE — After another year of explosive growth, Boise is once again focusing its budget on meeting increased demands for services and funding initiatives to address growing systemic issues.
The $764.7 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, which is soon to be up for consideration by Boise City Council, includes funding for six new police officers along with 13 other new full-time positions, additional funding for public transportation and affordable housing initiatives, and upgrades to parks. This is a roughly $12.9 million increase from last year’s budget.
The proposed $241.3 million general fund, which gets two-thirds of its revenue from property taxes, is a $5.2 million, or 2%, increase over last year. Because the city’s two-year levy to raise funds for the preservation of the Boise foothills ended in 2019, property tax collections rose only 1.5 percent over last year. This includes the proposed 3 percent increase in property tax collections, which is the maximum allowed under state code.
City officials say the average homeowner property tax increase will be $105.17 if the city increases collections by 3%. This is largely due to the average assessed value of homes increasing from $283,100 to $330,200, a boost of 16.6%. Even if the city did not increase tax collections, the average homeowner would still see an increase of $67.35 to their tax bill.
Overall, Boise’s residential property continues to be assessed at a higher rate than commercial property, which is putting a growing tax burden on homeowners to foot the bill for city services. Figures supplied by the city say 65% of the budget comes from residential properties and the rest from commercial, which is largest gap recorded between 2019 and 2003.
One of the biggest questions lingering in the city’s finances is how the proposed $85 million main library project would be paid for. The city allocated $85 million for the project last fiscal year, which included using long-term lease financing, philanthropy and the city’s capital fund to pay for the project. The city is looking to use cash instead of lease financing to fund $30 million of the project, since new legislation passed earlier this year made it more difficult for library projects paid for with urban renewal funding to be completed without a vote.
Eric Bilimoria, Boise’s budget manager, said even if the city council votes to use cash for the project instead of borrowing through bonds with Capital City Development Corporation, it would not drastically upend the city’s finances. The $30 million would be found from a variety of sources, including $7.5 million from the city’s cash flow reserves, money saved from the cost of not paying annual lease payments and another $6 million in unallocated resources left over at the end of the budget cycle.
The rest would come from savings from not replacing city vehicles as frequently and the possible deferment of buying land and building a standalone Hillcrest Library on the Boise Bench and renovating Fire Station Five in downtown Boise instead of a complete rebuild. City Council is set to decide if it will use cash or stick with long-term lease financing next week.
This proposed budget has additional resources to address the city’s plans to grow the public transit system and address the housing shortage. Earlier this year, council voted to contribute an additional $1 million to Valley Regional Transit over the next two budget cycles. Details on how much of it will be spent in fiscal year 2020 and in fiscal year 2021 respectively will be decided next week, as well as what exactly it will be spent on.
The budget also includes an additional $325,000 toward the city’s Grow Our Housing program, which aims to address the housing crisis by adding housing supply across all price points. The city is working with outside consultants to flesh out the details of the plan, but it will include changes to the zoning code to make certain single-family neighborhoods denser, incentives for developers to build affordable units and the creation of an affordable housing land trust. These funds are in addition to the one-time $5 million that City Council members dedicated to the program earlier this year.
For every tax dollar, Boise spends nearly a third on the Boise Police Department. In order to keep pace with the city’s growth, BPD has been growing its ranks in recent years. On top of this year’s additional six new officers, the city added seven new officers last fiscal year.
Other new positions being added include a new prosecutor in the city’s legal department and a new emergency preparedness coordinator and a training captain for the Boise Fire Department. City officials would like to add a public art program assistant for a limited time in the Arts and History Department, a new full-time employee in Parks and Recreation and five new positions in IT to keep up with demand. One temporary position is also proposed for community engagement and the human resources department.
Boise set aside $3 million last year to go toward a public-private partnership for a sports park, which has not been spent because project developer Chris Schoen has not brought forward a formal proposal for council to vote on. These funds are proposed to be carried over in the fiscal year 2020 budget.