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Property taxes, redistricting and COVID-19 on Boise officials minds ahead of 2021 Legislative session

Boise officials listed concerns with a few bills coming down the pike at the 2021 Idaho Legislative session.

Last month, Boise City Council heard an overview of major pieces of legislation expected for discussion at the Idaho State Capitol starting next month. Proposals to shake up property taxes, restrictions on public health orders and a new bill to clean up the process for Boise to elect city council members by district.

[Boise homeowners feel the pinch of rising property tax burden]

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, several legislators expressed support for bills meant to restrict Governor Brad Little’s emergency powers and public health orders. Boise currently has a mask mandate and enforcement measures in place to ensure compliance, which was issued amid rapidly rising cases ahead of Thanksgiving.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said she would not be supportive of any efforts from the legislature to prevent city officials from putting in place orders meant to slow the spread of the pandemic. Little has long said the state should defer any action, like a mask mandate, to local officials who can make the best decisions for their area.

“We remain concerned about potential efforts to preempt local government from making public health decisions we’ve been called on to do in lieu of the state taking those,” McLean said.

What about property taxes?

Idahoans in every corner of the Gem State are also watching the legislature to see if there will be any action on property tax relief as rapidly rising residential property values continue to squeeze wallets. An interim committee has been studying the issue for over a year and released its recommendations in November, all of which are focused on tightening government spending.

[Explain This to Me: How 2016 legislation shifted property tax burden from commercial land to homeowners]

The first proposed bill would cap tax property increases by changing the taxing formula, including increases allowed due to new construction, by 4% unless two thirds of voters approve in a public vote. It would also limit budget growth through a complex formula involving the consumer price index.

Another recommendation from the committee is legislation that would restrict cities, counties and other taxing districts from building budget reserves and rainy day funds. Only three months of regular operating expenses could be saved as an unassigned cash balance and one month of “rainy day” funds would be allowed. The final proposal would require local governments to publish local government budgeting information on a new website operated by the Idaho Controller’s Office.

[Explain this to me: Inside Idaho’s complicated property tax system]

Boise’s Government Affairs Director Kathy Griesmeyer said the bill on budget transparency had broad support, but she said there were concerns about the new property tax formula and the 4% cap. She said that the cost of providing services, like public safety, might outpace the growth in the consumer price index and make it hard for local governments to meet all of the community’s needs.

Boise officials and others around the state have raised concerns that any approach of cutting local government spending will not address the ongoing property tax shift from commercial to residential. Some proposed solutions, which were not proposed by the interim property tax committee, include indexing the homeowner’s exemption instead of capping it at $100,000 per year.

Other ideas include increasing impact fees to allow more other revenue sources for government projects and increasing property tax assistance to low income seniors called the circuit breaker.

“The city in all of our meetings with committee members and Boise legislators we have been diligent at asking the legislature about reindexing the homeowners exemption to see immediate relief,” Griesmeyer said. “We’re also encouraging lawmakers to look at the circuit breaker and look at impact fees in partnership with local school districts.”

[Idaho tried to lure a nuclear company in 2008. Instead, Micron got millions in property tax breaks]

Clarity coming on city council redistricting

Last session, the legislature passed a bill requiring cities with a population over 100,000 to elect their city councils by district. At the time, some legislators and Boise officials objected to it partly because it did not provide a mechanism for how the district lines be drawn and would require Boise to draw lines twice due to the timing of the U.S. Census and its upcoming November election.

Griesmeyer said the city has worked with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, to put together a new bill that keeps the intent of the bill but resolves some of the logistical questions. She said it would align the line-drawing process with the statewide reapportionment process where new districts are drawn according to the new Census results, allow Boise to work with the Ada County Clerk’s office for drawing district lines and would prevent council members from being removed from their seats before their elected term is over.

[Study says Idaho underfunding transportation by a quarter billion dollars each year]

There are no plans in the works to overturn the legislation in court.

“We want to make sure we’re meeting the intent of the bill, but also that we’re able to make it workable for cities and avoid some of the unnecessary costs from having to draw council districts twice within a one year cycle,” Griesmeyer said.

Other possible legislation includes a bill requiring the release of police officer disciplinary records from the Idaho Innocence Project and legislation related to energy building codes. Griesmeyer said that legislation could address Boise’s recent change to its energy building code, which requires the installation of an outlet capable of charging an electric vehicle in newly constructed single-family homes and townhomes.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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