The Ada County Highway District Commission once again shaved down its fiscal year 2022 budget before final approval.
Earlier this month, ACHD held a public hearing and unanimously approved its upcoming $150 million budget. This includes a 3% tax increase allowed under the statute, an increase for new construction, and $450,000 in foregone taxes for maintenance and operations. Within the budget, ACHD allotted roughly $5 million toward community programs focused on sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, and the agency’s Safe Routes to School program.
A smaller increase
This budget approval is a scaled-down version of what was considered earlier in the year. In July, ACHD staff proposed the possibility of taking the full foregone amount of $10 million to catch up on the project backlog amid Ada County’s rapid growth.
During a work session, commissioners opted to decrease that amount to $7.5 million instead. It was reduced again to $1.6 million after ACHD got new guidance from the Idaho Tax Commission on the impacts of the 2021 property tax reform legislation.
Foregone taxes allow a taxing entity to take a tax increase it declined in previous years. Commission President Kent Goldthorpe said he was concerned with taking the originally proposed 3% of foregone that would bring in $1.3 million for capital projects because it would only be a one-time addition to the budget. Instead, he favored only taking the new construction, normal 3% tax increase to the property tax base, and the 1% of foregone to bring in $450,000 in maintenance and operations. Idaho statute allows foregone taken for that purpose to be applied in years to come, not just once.
Other commissioners agreed and opted to remove the $1.3 million in foregone for capital projects from the budget. They also opted to remove funding for a pay raise for commissioners and ACHD Director Bruce Wong.
ACHD officials say an average property valued at $421,000 paid $171.53 in property taxes to ACHD in 2020. Under the new budget, officials say a property valued at that same amount will pay $191.50. That’s an increase of 11.6%.
Road projects versus walkability/bikability
All of the residents who came forward to speak during the public hearing commended ACHD for the tax increase and called for more investment in programs to promote sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure for the inner core, instead of only widening roads in suburban Ada County.
“I want to express my support for the proposed tax increases, providing these increases and increased budget revenues they provide ACHD,” Deanna Smith told the commissioners during the public hearing. “…Some would argue that these priorities are not aligned with the majority of users, but I would argue that establishing these funding priorities addresses the years when these modes have been unfunded or underfunded.”
Southwest Ada County Alliance President Marisa Keith also encouraged the commissioners to reform their impact fee process. Currently, any impact fees paid on any project in Ada County can be spent anywhere in the county and are unable to be spent on pedestrian or bicycle improvements. Keith, and other community members, have argued in recent years that this uses infill developer’s dollars and uses it to fund costly sprawl.
“I don’t believe we’re going to cure congestion by simply widening the roads,” Keith said. “I would encourage you to keep working on changing the impact fee ordinance to include more options for what that money can be spent on and if it requires going to the legislature, I know you’ve attempted this once before, but if you go there again I am sure you would find some allies within the neighborhood associations to start a letter campaign.”
Commissioner Dave McKinney acknowledged the importance of improving sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure projects, but he said the current budget included too much funding for those projects over traditional road improvements. He said ACHD could fall prey to “mission creep,” where it loses sight of its main purpose in favor of programs for a minority of activists hoping for more community programs.
“These community programs are all good things, but I would like to speak up for the 99% of the people in this county who are not on that same page,” McKinney said. “Nearly everyone in this county relies on their automobile to get to work, do their shopping and do all of their daily activities simply because of the way the cities are laid out. Until the county is building more along the lines of walkable, bikeable communities that is not going to change for most residents.”
Long-awaited reforms to impact fee ordinance
No one moved to make changes to the budget to reduce community programs in favor of more automobile improvements following his remarks.
The idea of reforming the impact fee ordinance caught fire with the majority of the commissioners this year.
Commissioner Jim Hansen and Commissioner Alexis Pickering both pushed for reforms to the impact fee ordinance in this year’s budget to make way for changes that allow for improvements to be more targeted where development is happening and for a broader range of uses.
“Especially in light of the housing crisis we’re feeling right now, a lot of our cities are trying to retool existing infrastructure like the malls or do infill, and if we’re trying to be a partner in all of the things that infrastructure does actually impact, (we need to make sure) that our traffic patterns can support those changes in development patterns in adding housing at the mall or adding housing in Garden City we should be able to have an impact fee ordinance that provides the flexibility to accommodate that kind of development,” Pickering said.
McKinney argued that the changes to the impact fee ordinance should be discussed separately than the budget at a later time, but no other commissioners joined him to vote for the delay.