The city of Meridian budget could rise a whopping 41% next year. But breathe easy, property taxpayers: Your bills likely will rise only modestly.
The large increase in Mayor Robert Simison’s proposed budget for the year starting Oct. 1 is driven by a handful of capital improvement projects, Meridian Financial Analyst Brad Purser said. The projects include two police stations, two fire stations and upgrades to Discovery Park.
The budget increase also includes a 5% increase in employee pay for general employees from last year, when city employees received no raises.
Meridian has been named the fastest-growing city in Idaho by the Census Bureau. The city’s population is approximately 127,890, according to the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho. The population increased 7% from last year, according to Compass data.
Simison’s budget aims to address the rapid growth by adding four new public safety stations for fire and police, one each in the fast-growing northwest and southeast. The proposed budget is $152 million, up from this year’s $107 million.
Even with those big-ticket items, the mayor is proposing taking less than the city’s allowable 3% increase in property taxes. He proposed 2.37%. That would add $5.34 annually per $100,000 of home value, according to Todd Lavoie, the city’s chief financial officer.
In a budget presentation to the City Council on Tuesday, Lavoie said a 2.37% increase would put the city up against the 8% cap in its property tax budget. The 8% cap is new for cities this year under a new state law that caps city property tax budgets in an effort to restrain property taxes.
Every year, a taxing district sets its budget, and it may increase property taxes to cover additional costs of services. Each taxing district can raise the property tax portion of its budget by up to 3% unless voters have approved a larger increase. Taxing districts also collect property taxes from new construction or annexations added each year. But the new property tax law places an 8% cap on the total property tax increase a taxing district can take.
The 2.37% increase would bring the city’s levy rate up to 0.0024 from last year’s rate of 0.0022. New revenue from that increase would be about $932,000, the city financial department estimated.
Discovery Park ask shocks council member
Discovery Park sits on 77 acres on the south side of Lake Hazel Road. So far, 27 acres have been developed as part of Phase 1 of the park’s development project. Phase 1 includes a playground, dog park and picnic shelters.
Simison is asking the council to fund Phase 2 over the next two budget years at a cost of $14,482,374. Phase 2 would include three multi-use fields, a bike park, a teen zone that includes hammock areas and a skate park, and an active area that includes tennis and bocce ball courts.
Councilwoman Liz Strader said she was “having some sticker shock at $14 million.”
If approved in the budget, the city would start construction next spring and open in late summer 2023.
The city would use park impact fees to pay for the construction. Impact fees are fees that cities can charge developers on new development for the impact the new development will make on the city’s financial resources. Park impact fees are charged specifically to buy and improve parks.
Fire crew response times are above city’s goal
Simision is proposing two new fire stations for the city. One would be located on Lake Hazel Road between Locust Grove and Eagle roads and would serve southeast Meridian. The other would be in Northwest Meridian, near the new Owyhee High School, west of McDermott Road and south of McMillan Road.
New development “has largely driven up our response times” in Northwest Meridian, said Meridian Fire Marshal Joe Bongiorno. “It is being identified as an area of need.”
The city’s goal is to have fire response times around 6 minutes and 35 seconds. Bongiorno said that during a recent fire on Lake Hazel Road and Eagle Road, it took the fire department 7 minutes to arrive. A second fire truck was required to be on scene for safety reasons, and Bongiorno said it took that truck 9 minutes to arrive from Boise.
The second station would also help improve the response times in that northern area of the city.
Bongiorno said the fire department has tried to be proactive during the application process for proposed developments, showing maps of the city with the department’s average response times and asking some developers to hold off on building.
“I say we are going to be there, but it is going to be ugly,” he said.
Each station will cost $6.5 million. One station would be fully funded through impact fees.
Police travel is time consuming to parts of Meridian
The budget proposal also includes two police stations to be built next to the fire stations, so citizens can have easy access to both services, Meridian Police Lt. Jamie Leslie told the council.
A police precinct was planned off Chinden Boulevard in this year’s budget, but it failed to get off the ground, Leslie said. The plan in the next budget cycle is to use the $2 million the police department has in this year’s budget for the building next to the Northwest Meridian fire station near Owyhee High, which is expected to open in August.
The northwest precinct station would cost $4.5 million and the southeast station $6.5 million.
The two new stations would reduce the travel time for officers when they respond to calls on the outskirts of town and have to drive back to the central precinct, Leslie said.
“Geographically, traveling our city can be complicated and time consuming,” he said.
The council grappled with the idea of funding four new projects for police and fire. Some members blamed previous councils for not planning for growth and for failing to fund police and fire stations before this budget cycle.
Treg Bernt, council president, worried about how the city staff would manage building four stations at once.
“I think that we are underestimating what that is going to look like, and the last thing I want to do is to put ourselves in a position where we are behind the gun,” Bernt said.
For Strader, the fire stations are a necessity.
“It is a moral decision, for what we have promised our community, I don’t think it is appropriate for us to take 9 minutes to get out to Lake Hazel to respond to a fire,” Strader said.
The city plans to hold a second budget workshop at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 29, and will hold a public hearing later this summer, likely in August.