Rising property tax bills and an expensive proposal for the new Main Library took center stage at Boise City Council’s budget public hearing Tuesday night.
Of the three residents who stood before council, all took issue with the proposed $752.8 million budget for several reasons, including the city’s decision to increase property tax collections 3 percent to the maximum allowed by state code as well as the decision to spend $69 million for a new Main Library in downtown Boise.
Mayor Dave Bieter and City Council Member Scot Ludwig were not present at the hearing.
The $236.1 million general fund, which sources two-thirds of its revenue from property taxes, saw a proposed $18.3 million, or 8 percent, increase over last year. Combining the city’s growth in property assessments with the proposed 3 percent property tax increase would result in a property tax bill increase from $1,036 to $1,188, or $152, for the average homeowner, according to city budget documents.
Boise resident Bill Goodnight told the council he is frustrated by the increase in property tax collections, which, coupled with the booming real estate market, will put considerable strain on his budget.
“My assessment on my home went up $60,000 this year,” he said. “I’m paying more monthly in property taxes than I paid in monthly house payments when I first bought it.”
Lori Dicaire, founder of the “smart growth” advocacy group Vanishing Boise, also spoke out against the budget and the cost of the library project because she felt this decision does not prioritize the needs of working class Boiseans who she said are struggling to make ends meet while the cost of living is rising.
“Libraries are great, but we have unfunded needs in the city like affordable housing, transit, pedestrian infrastructure, and adequacy of infrastructure,” she said. “Library open houses are going on at the same time as the decision to allocate funds for the library are being made. The public is not getting a vote, at least give them a forum to discuss the library budget.”
The current main library design would cost roughly $103 million to build. In order to meet the city’s proposed project budget of $80 million to $85 million, staff and the architects will consider a variety of options to either alter materials or possibly phase construction. On top of the city funding, the project is proposed to be funded with donations, debt and urban renewal revenue.
Following the discussions, several council members defended the decision to raise revenues, invest in the library and continue to keep up with the growing demand for services as the population expands.
“I’m really proud of this budget,” City Council member T.J. Thomson said. “I think it’s struck a good balance. There’s certain issues that are and will continue to be a challenge but we’re hitting them head on.”
City Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg said she is proud of the city’s decision to continue investing in its infrastructure, which she said was lacking two decades ago when the city had built new parks, law enforcement facilities or other projects in years.
Margaret Carmel covers the city of Boise. Follow her on Twitter @mlcarmel or reach her by phone at 757-705-8066.