Meridian Mayor Robert Simison stood in front of a crowd in the Galaxy Event Center at Wahooz to deliver his second State of the City speech.
Simison sounded confident about the future of rapidly growing Meridian. He said through a survey they found residents believe city’s services are “valued and appreciated.”
“The state of Meridian is strong,” he said. “Some might say a little too strong, as we see new residents and businesses choose to put down roots in our community. But this is happening by design.”
Simison says his three top priorities are transportation, growth, and education and noted those have not changed since he was first campaigning for mayor.
During his address, Simison called the Linder Rd. Overpass, which we told you about here, the “number one” transportation need. Fire stations, Amazon, FedEx, an elementary school, and several other developments would be easier to access through the overpass, he said.
“The overpass is sorely needed, much like ones in the past, for public safety and to alleviate congestion,” he said.
Simison talked about the importance of improvements to state highways such as the extension of Highway 16. He also noted cost for these major projects through the STAR funding but said the city must be “innovative” to solve transportation funding problems.
“The biggest proposed investment is the extension of Highway 16 between Chinden and I-84,” Simison said. “Once completed, Highway 16 will provide great access to the area and beyond, while reducing traffic on Ten Mile.”
Meridian is growing fast, new major developments are popping up all over the city. And last year Meridian identified the Northeast and Southeast areas as top priority growth spots where services need to be invested in. And Simison says they are “doing just that.”
Simison asked the city council to work with him in getting additional fire and police substations to these areas to keep up with the growth and help response times. The fire department reported an average response time of 6:35, however, the cities goal is five minutes.
“We cannot ask residents to face diminished services because of growth,” he said, “What all four of these facilities will do is keep our community safer and help our response times with roads that are more congested, having the facilities and officers closer to where people live, will help us meet our commitment to the community.”
More growth includes the Discovery Park that is moving on to phase two of its plans, two additional library locations, a charter school, and a west Ada elementary school.
Simison brought attention to the property tax bill which will mostly affect government spending and limit growth. This caused the City of Caldwell to enact a growth moratorium however Simison says Meridian “should be able to provide our city services as planned.”
“The bill signed by the governor won’t really provide meaningful property tax relief,” Simison said. “It does however continue the real issue, which is the shifting of property taxes because of limitations, this bill puts on new construction revenue. It is likely the city will have to ask for some of the allowable property tax increase. Because now, growth is not paying for itself.”
He once again touched on how important he thinks it is for growth to pay for itself when talking about building more schools.
“Ultimately, the legislature needs to take responsibility for their constitutional requirement regarding education,” he said. “They can do this by providing state funding and tools so the growth can help pay for new facilities, instead of just relying upon bonds, which are part of the property tax burden.”
Simison took another shot at the state legislators for the city council election bill. The bill would require cities with populations over 100,000 to elect city council members by district. The new law originated in the 2020 session, but both Boise and Meridian hoped to make changes during the 2021 session. Ultimately, the 2021 bill died.
“Last year’s bill lacked direction on implementation so we worked with the legislature for guidance,” he said. “Ultimately, the fix was hijacked and the concerns for implementation still exist.”
This year the city has three council seats up for election and it will run as usual. But starting in 2023 the council members will be elected by districts.
Though Simison spoke optimistically through his address, he listed challenges the city has and is facing. This included skyrocketing residential housing prices, finding employees, and businesses having trouble locating property.
“So how do we move forward? Well, it starts with more opportunities,” he said. “Despite our strong commercial activity from the last year, we need to be preparing for additional needs. One way we can do this is with new urban renewal districts.”
Simison closed by talking about the division and hardships the pandemic has created but says he “believes in Meridian.”
“Let’s get back to talking, finding solutions, and supporting one another, and together we can all believe in Meridian,” he said.