Marianne and Larry Williams have donated 70 acres of Boise river front land in the Harris Ranch subdivision to the city of Boise to be used as a park.
On the face of it the deal looks good. It will extend the greenbelt, it is a nice gesture, it will preserve a mile of river frontage and eventually be a nice “open space park” with wildlife habitat and walking trails.
A closer examination of the gift which was made public at the City Council meeting Tuesday raises some questions and concerns. The issues are not insurmountable, but they do need to be addressed by City Councilors–some of whom were apparently left out of the loop until the donation was announced. We don’t like secret deals dealing with public business period.
The GUARDIAN has learned that on average it costs about $100,000 per acre to develop these so-called “open space parks.” That means they don’t have play grounds, grassy areas, planted gardens, sports equipment and fences among other things. The new Williams Park will cost about $7 million to develop based on the rule of thumb.
The money, according to press reports, will come from “park impact fees” which are charged at a maximum rate of $800 per single family dwelling–less for multifamily dwellings. Last year the Boise Parks Department collected about $850,000 TOTAL in impact fees. According to staffers, $200-250,000 of that was designated to develop “open space parks”–like Williams Park.
Here is the wrinkle. Any way you cut it, impact fees will NOT cover the project.
At the $225,000 annual revenue rate it could take about 30 years to develop the $7 million project piece meal. Even if the City were to spend every single impact dollar collected from the 3,100 homes to be built at Harris Ranch, it would come to only $2.5 million.
The Idaho Constitution prohibits local government from spending more than a single year’s revenue (impact fees in this case) without a vote of the citizens to go into debt in the form of municipal bonds.
The Council has total spending authority to pay cash up front in a single year to build the park, but it will take some real budget wizard to find the money. Staffers call this a “partnership opportunity,” meaning they need some donations, federal grants, or other windfall profits to get the job done. Taxes can also be raised to fund up to 3% above the previous year’s city budget.
Finally we are suspicious of the methods and the motives. The Williams family credits Mayor Dave Bieter for getting the ball rolling. That ball–thanks to the donated land–is rolling toward the City Council and the Ada County Highway District.
To collect impact fees for the park the city needs to have houses built. Until the Park Center bridge is finished, no new houses can be built. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that no matter how nice the gift, there is pressure on officials to approve the development plan and build a bridge.
Did we mention Mr. Williams is planning to build houses, offices, and high density residential units in the middle of this new park?
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