After a fiscally conservative year of cutbacks, the City of Boise’s budget is roaring back with dozens of new positions and new spending on affordable housing, climate change and more officers for the Boise Police Department.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council heard an hours-long briefing from every city department and high-level staff on the upcoming fiscal year 2022 budget set to be rolled out next month. Specific numbers on revenue and spending aren’t available yet, but the preview presentation showed plans for nearly 40 new employees across multiple departments and plans to take the full 3% budget increase allowed by code.
Where is Boise adding employees?
Mayor’s Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn said added population growth is straining multiple city departments, both externally facing planning and development services and internal departments like finance and IT. The city hit five-year highs for applications submitted for planning and building permits. The Boise foothills are seeing three times the usual traffic. Plus, 911 calls for both police and fire are on the rise.
Officials say the new positions created will help meet these demands, which are currently being met by city employees shouldering heavier and heavier workloads.
“There are a lot of new positions here and that’s a really big deal,” City Council President Elaine Clegg said during the meeting. “But it’s also a big deal to our residents that we maintain the level of service they expect.”
The new positions include 13 positions for Boise Police Department, four employees in the Office of Community Engagement, 5.5 positions in legal to help cover criminal, civil and work writing city ordinances, and four positions in the Department of Finance. This budget will also convert 2.5 seasonal positions to permanent, add 1.4 positions at the Library, a Public Art Coordinator, and a part-time employee each for the newly created Office of Police Accountability and Parks and Recreation.
Human Resources, Public Works and Mayor McLean’s office will also receive a new employee. The presentation did not include details yet on what most of these positions will be specifically working on or their pay scale, but more information will be available once the full budget is released in mid-June.
Property tax shift hitting Boiseans hard
Boiseans will get another property tax hike this year, but it’s largely not due to the city council opting to increase property tax collections.
Since last year, the average home in Boise has jumped in value from $351,023 to $455,000. This makes the homeowner’s exemption, which the legislature newly raised to $125,000, provide less tax relief than in years past. Governor Brad Little’s property tax relief program using CARES funding is also expiring this year, adding more tax burden back onto property owners.
On top of those factors, the property tax shift toward residential properties over commercial continues. Because of the way Boise’s budget is capped by state law, it means that as residential properties grow in value faster than commercial properties, they pay higher tax bills every year, but the city of Boise doesn’t rake in a significant increase in revenue. It just means residential property owners are paying more of the burden while businesses are paying less.
This resulted in many residential property owners paying more taxes in 2020 than before, even though the city budget decreased.
Property taxes for the average Boise home this upcoming fiscal year will increase by 37%, or $416.16. If the city did not take any property tax increase like last fiscal year, it would only result in $44.79 in savings for the average homeowner.
Boise’s Budget Manager Eric Bilimoria said the additional revenue from taking the 3% will help the city pay for services many residents are asking for as the city grows.
“Without the 3%, some of the public safety increases in this budget will not be possible,” he said.
From library to affordable housing
This budget also reflects a major change in policy from former Mayor Dave Bieter’s administration to Mayor Lauren McLean’s.
In fiscal year 2022, the budget will propose to reallocate the $25 million set aside to build a new main library to complete other projects, most notably affordable housing initiatives. Roughly $17 million will be reallocated for a plan to create a new central maintenance facility to free up the land used by several maintenance yards in the downtown core for housing.
There is also a permanent supportive housing project in the city’s five year plan.
Council Member Holli Woodings said she is glad to see the pivot in city priorities, but is still sad about the scuttled main library proposal.
“I am still mourning the loss of a library we never had, a little bit, but I recognize we had a significant capital fund built up for the project and now as we’re reevaluating our needs it makes a lot of sense to shift that over as we replan for the future of the library.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the figure for the amount of property taxes an average home will get in the next fiscal year. It has been corrected in this version.