Monday evening a lively crowd gathered in the Meridian City Hall Council Chambers to hear from Meridian City Council hopefuls ahead of the November 2 election.
Incumbents Joe Borton, Treg Bernt, and Luke Cavener and newcomers Adam Nelson and Mike Hon answered questions for a little over an hour about the City of Meridian. The meeting mostly focused on growth, property taxes, and city ordinances.
During the forum, council members and hopefuls talked often about growth in the rapidly expanding city and how they believe it should be addressed.
Cavener said growth should be addressed through transportation and smart decisions.
“(The) more people that we can put on buses, the more lasting impact we’re going to have on our interstate, and our streets, and roads,” he said. “It also comes to I think smart land-use decisions. And my opponent talked a lot about the apartments that are in Meridian, yeah, we do, we have a lot of apartments we went from none to a bunch. But when you look at what the things I think the city does really well is where we locate them.”
Borton spoke about the importance of sticking to the plans and using the tools the city offers to navigate the growth.
“Growth has to be purposeful,” Borton said. “And by that I mean, having the discipline to adhere to the plans that we’ve developed. Meridian is guided by long-range, long-term plans that many of you might have taken part in most recently with our Comprehensive Plan. A comprehensive plan guides the entire city of Meridian, not only within its limits but where our area of impact and where we intend to grow through collaborative input from the community. It describes the types of land uses we intend. You’ll be surprised, perhaps to know the Meridian is less than 60%, built. Meridian has planned a large area outside of its city limits through collaboration with their citizens.”
Newcomer Hon said the city council should apply ‘common sense’ to growth and think about all aspects of allowing new developments.
“Asking for variances, asking for up-zones, the Meridian City Council has a lot of power to say yea or nay,” he said. “And I think maybe we should step back a little bit and take a look at some of these projects to see how are they are affecting the roads that we don’t have control over. How they are they affecting the schools that, we don’t have control over that either? But we do have control over well, how many units are we to put out there.”
With the housing prices skyrocketing across the Treasure Valley, property taxes have garnered a lot of attention and to no surprise received a good amount from the council hopefuls.
If elected, Nelson talked about using a comprehensive approach to deal with property taxes,
“I’ve written a couple of paragraphs on property taxes and, the word freeze comes up the words, tap the brakes comes up a lot. But I think the biggest thing to do is to just look at where we’re at, and where we’re at in relation to the rest of the world, and make sure that we’re not overcharging our citizens on property taxes,” Nelson said. “Just because the price of everybody’s house has gone through the roof because everybody wants to live here.”
Bernt, who serves as the Vice-Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Association of Idaho Cities, nodded to his experience and looking at different counties to solve this problem.
“We (worked) very close with our state elected officials this last legislative session, and (there are) some things that we need to work on going forward for sure. Number one is the circuit breaker for sure needs to be tweaked a little bit. Homeowners’ exemption for sure is too low. And we need to make sure that we create legislation that exemplifies not necessarily how much your house is worth and how much your house is increasing in value. So we need to work with the different counties to make sure that growth makes sense.”
Meridian passed Ordinance 18-1791, an anti-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation and gender identity three years ago, and once again it seems to be a hot-button topic this election.
When asked about their stance, Cavener was quick to say he voted in favor as did Borton, who explained why.
“Just last year in 2020 The US Supreme Court in a six-three majority issued a ruling that quite frankly made it nationwide right,” Borton said.“But nonetheless, the Meridian ordinance is one of one, it is the most narrowly tailored one in the state of Idaho, albeit perhaps the West. And it is one that we have had a collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce and our business community when forming it. And I’m glad to note that since its adoption. We’ve had zero complaints provided to the city from anybody. It’s not being utilized at all. And I’m pretty proud of our community for that.”
Bernt, who was in office voted no, Nelson said he would vote no. And Hon, who previously spoke to BoiseDev about his issue with the ordinance, reiterated his concern.
“As a common-sense conservative, I would have voted no,” Hon said. “And really, the reason for me is, I don’t think it’s the city’s place to legislate feelings. and I’ve read that ordinance, and it’s very vague, and it’s got a very vague language that could put a lot of people at risk from a variety of different things.”