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New fire station, added staff & affordable housing included in approved Boise budget

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Boise’s new budget with dozens of new staff members, investments in affordable housing, and a long-awaited fire station in Northwest Boise got the green light on Tuesday night. 

In a 4-1 vote with City Council Member Luci Willits voting no, Boise City Council approved the fiscal year 2023 budget with praises for Mayor Lauren McLean and the rest of city staff for putting together a proposal that serves city needs, while also addressing affordability.  Council member Patrick Bageant wasn’t present for the vote.

McLean’s budget increased property tax collections by 2.45%, which is below the maximum 3% allowed under Idaho code. It also included $1.2 million in tax rebates for low-income Bosieans who own their own home and are on the circuit breaker, or property tax reduction program, to help with property tax relief. She said eyeing fiscal impact on residents is important, but the city also shouldn’t be afraid to invest in what it needs to keep the community strong. 

“As we continue to grow, we know investments are necessary to ensure we protect this community, the people, and the place we all love so that our kids can experience the community as we’ve been able to experience it with their kids,” McLean said. 

No one testified at the public hearing about the budget.

What’s in the budget?

This $862 million budget is powered by an increase to property taxes, but 10% of it is fueled by one-time funds from the American Rescue Plan Act or savings from the city’s high vacancy rate over the past year. 

Major investments in the budget include:

  • 45 new positions across dozens of departments

  • 5.9% cost of living adjustment for employees

  • New $16.15 minimum wage for city workers

The American Rescue Plan funds will be used for a variety of purposes as well, including $12 million in affordable housing, $2 million for wifi at three downtown city parks and $2.6 million for staffing/administrative costs associated with the program. Another $10.2 million will go toward community programs, including a partnership with the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children to distribute incentive pay to childcare workers, $1.5 million toward a system to distribute local food and $2.75 million for a partnership to provide one on one and group therapy to uninsured Boiseans. 

Another $2 million will be distributed to qualifying businesses impacted by the pandemic in low-income census tracts to help with recovery. Unlike the city’s previous small business assistance program, this assistance would be given out as a cash payout instead of a more complex system for being reimbursed for expenses of adapting to the pandemic. It will be administered in partnership with the United Way of Treasure Valley. 

‘A lot of necessary in here’

Willits praised several elements of the city’s budget prior to her no vote, calling it a budget with ‘a lot of necessary in here’. But, she decided to vote no because it did not include any new positions for officers in the Boise Police Department or firefighters for the Boise Fire Department. Willits also took issue with the city’s affordable housing spending, noting that Boise and its taxpayers have had to step up time and time again to address housing issues while other Treasure Valley cities haven’t. 

“What I am concerned about is that there’s parts of this budget that could be construed and talked about as constructing affordable housing and buying affordable housing and I don’t want Boise to become a landlord,” Willits said. “I want private industry to do that. I’m going to vote no.”

The City of Boise has been a landlord with it’s own affordable housing units for roughly 30 years. The city owns and operates over 200 units of affordable housing throughout the city, which serve some of the lowest-income Boiseans. 

City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings pushed back on Willits’ concerns related to the lack of public safety spending. She said the budget included no new officers because Chief Ryan Lee did not request any. Instead, he wanted to fill the high vacancy rate at the police department first before asking for more positions.

“He wanted to start with that which I think is really prudent and respectful of city resources,” Woodings said. 

She also pointed out the city can’t add more firefighters unless it builds more fire stations to house them, which is a major point of investment in the FY 2023 budget. 

Clegg also defended the city’s work on affordable housing. 

“The thing I think is the most important we be innovative about in this time of crisis is our response to housing that’s not just ‘oh gosh we don’t know what to do, we’d better hope the private sector steps up’ and instead saying ‘here’s what we’ll do, here’s what we need, here’s the partnership we’ll support’ and together I think we will make a dent in the housing crisis,” Clegg said. “I don’t think we’ll solve it, but without us stepping up it’s much less likely we get even close.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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