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Fact check: Boise said ‘no tax’ bond made new fire station possible. It was funded by property taxes

Idaho's Biggest Toy Drive

The City of Boise repeatedly said this week that a newly-opened fire station was “made possible by citizen support of the public safety no-tax bond.”

But that’s not true.

The information first cropped up in a news release sent to all local media outlets by Boise Fire on October 21st. The incorrect fact popped up in several news stories about the grand opening, sourcing the news release.

The person running the mayor’s Twitter account repeated it Thursday. The incorrect information also appeared on the city’s website.

When BoiseDev pointed out the false information, the mayor’s Twitter account quickly deleted the tweet and admitted the error.

Property taxes paid for the over-budget station

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In 2014, the City of Boise put a bond in front of voters. It asked for $17 million, which voters approved by a wide margin. The city asked for the cash to upgrade or build four new stations, and construct a new training facility. A previous bond failed to meet the 2-3rds threshold required by law in Idaho, so city leaders proposed the second attempt. The new bond promised not to raise taxes by reconfiguring a fire retirement fund.

But, the money quickly ran out. A two-year timeline stretched to seven years.

To get all the projects done, the city decided to instead tap its general fund. That money comes directly from taxpayers in the form of property taxes.

The Idaho Statesman reported last fall that $11.6 million of the $17 million went into a fire training center. That project came in 70% over its $6.8 million budget.

By summer of last year, the city told the Statesman it would cost $34 million to get the five projects done – instead of the $17 million voters approved. But the price tag for fire station number nine again went over budget – this time to $5.3 million, according to the Idaho Press.

That’s more than three times more than the $1.2 million initially budgeted when the bond went to voters.

The city blamed rising construction costs for part of the budget overages, but also said it made mistakes in calculating project costs by relying on figures benchmarked during the great recession.

[Fact check: Yes, Boise just paid the library architects. No, it didn’t violate its “pause” pledge]

Other projects delayed

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To pay for the fire stations, the city delayed other projects – including renovations to city pools at South Jr. High and Lowell Elementary. Boise also continues to take a 3% increase in property tax revenues each year allowed under state law.

The city still has one of the four promised stations left to build, to remodel or replace fire station five in Downtown Boise. That project is pegged at $7.9 million, but won’t go into the design phase until 2021.

Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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