I recently worked with the Meridian City Council to develop an opinion editorial addressing the recently proposed legislation surrounding property tax. This is a complex issue and while we believe there are ways to address this issue to help tax payers, the proposed legislation is not the answer. Below you will find the editorial piece that was published in the Idaho Press on January 30th.
Allow Fiscally Responsible Cities to Continue Prudent Practices
Most Idahoans share a core set of values derived from important lessons that were instilled in us at a young age: work hard; save before you spend; take care of your property; always be prepared for a rainy day. These simple, yet important ideals, helped to build a foundation in making us responsible and productive citizens. These ideals also translate to operating a responsible city government.
Meridian has done well by proactively saving before we spend for critical services and large-scale projects. This type of planning has allowed us to remain a debt free city, completing multi-million-dollar projects like the opening of Fire Station Six last year and the expansion of our wastewater treatment plant, without running bond or levy elections. It has allowed us to maintain the service levels and amenities that our community expects and deserves as we continue to grow.
We are a fiscally conservative city and engage in a thorough and transparent budget process each year where we invite residents to weigh in. All of our financial information is on our website — every penny we spend. We were elected to manage Meridian. We each took an oath to do so to the best of our ability, and take that oath very seriously. We even get checkups from the people we serve, whether by evening phone calls, emails, the chance meetings out in the community, and on election day.
Now our ability to continue these prudent practices are under attack, which will impact our growing public safety needs in Meridian and throughout the state. Future police officers and fire stations are at risk, which means current services will suffer as calls increase.
The state Legislature has spent a lot of time talking about property taxes that provide cities necessary funding for expected services – such as a police officer or firefighters arriving quickly during an emergency, kids playing sports in a park, having pathways to make the walk safer, and so much more. The legislators talk about rising taxes. However, when asked objectively about this issue in the 2021 Idaho Public Policy Survey conducted by BSU, the community isn’t concerned about the cost of their taxes from local government. What they are concerned about is the unpredictability of taxes due to increasing home values.
Legislators should be working to address this issue that results in shifting the tax base, which we have seen for the past several years. This increased tax burden has fallen on residential property owners more so than on commercial business due to the rising value of homes, which is outpacing commercial values. While business commerce is essential to the community, there has to be a balanced approach.
Several legislative ideas exist that can provide real, meaningful tax relief to homeowners. These ideas include adjusting the cap on the homeowner’s exemption, updating the circuit breaker index, or allowing schools to collect impact fees so growth can help reduce bonding requests from our education partners. Solutions such as these are much better than passing costly and redundant transparency laws, restricting new construction to an artificial number, or prohibiting cities from saving before spending.
It’s time for the legislature to do the right thing; let the locally elected officials lead their communities. The legislature should focus on addressing issues our homeowners clearly understand to be the problem, that of taxes being tied to rising home values, and not handcuffing communities from trying to provide the services that their residents ask for and need.