City Government

Foothills Levy Nothing But A Slush Fund

Question: Shall the City of Boise City, Idaho protect clean water and drinking water, wildlife habitat, critical open space, and native plant species, and enhance recreation opportunities and trails through the establishment of a fund from a temporary override levy enabling the purchase of property and improvement projects in areas such as the Boise Foothills and the Boise River? All levy funds must be spent solely on the benefits listed above, not administrative costs, and the fund will be subject to review by a citizens’ advisory committee and an annual audit. The levy will raise the amount of five million dollars each year for two years commencing with the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2016 and ending September 30, 2018.

    IMPORTANT–read the “continue reading” letter from a former Foothills advisory member at bottom of page.

Burrowing owl habitat needs protection in South and East Boise.

Burrowing owl habitat needs protection in South and East Boise.

The newest Foothills Levy question seems noble at first reading, but a careful analysis reveals a craftily worded broad plea for a $10,000,000 slush fund. The GUARDIAN”s concerns are well founded in the past performance of Boise’s mayor and councilors who played fast and loose with the previous levy.

–Nothing in the language would prohibit making payments to United Water to “protect drinking water.”

–While the EPA, Idaho Water Resources, and DEQ are charged with administering “clean water,” the mayor and council could claim citizens approved a levy to allow them to act.

–Same is true for wildlife and plants. In fact, Boise purchased Hammer Flat east of town, promptly closed it to all public access for “plant and wildlife inventory.” The secret action (secret land acquisition is legal) was nothing more than a deal to use the Foothills Levy as a finance mechanism for the State of Idaho which eventually purchased the land.

Boise policy of urban sprawl and annexation has eliminated hundreds of acres of farm land and wildlife habitat.

Boise policy of urban sprawl and annexation has eliminated hundreds of acres of farm land and wildlife habitat.

–There is no geographical limit to land purchases. Last time they jumped clear north into Boise County to purchase Stack Rock. At a minimum, land purchases should be within or adjacent to Boise city limits. The ballot question has absolutely no provision to limit the urban sprawl south and east of Boise where wildlife needs to be protected from development. Disdained by city officials, the area is essential to success of the birds of prey which are sustained by the small critters living in the arid high desert.

The GUARDIAN has received several letters from Foothills users and conservationists. The one below is most revealing in that Team Dave attempted to use the Foothills Conservation Advisory Committee for political gain. The group no longer exists–despite a previous ballot provision and ordinance. The mayor’s office now makes the spending decisions once reserved for citizens.

On May 22, 2001, 59% of Boise voters supported a two-year serial levy (2002 and 2003) in order to raise $10 million for Foothills land preservation efforts. According to the official ballot language (see attachment), the funds would be subject to review by a citizens committee and an annual independent audit.

Shortly after the passage of the Foothills Levy, the Mayor and the City Council approved the creation of the Foothills Conservation Advisory Committee (Chapter 2-23 of Boise Municipal Code see attachment) to “…make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council for permanent protection of natural open space in the Boise foothills, consistent with the open space serial levy passed by the voters on May 22, 2001, and will work to ensure that the levy funds are spent wisely.”

Many of the original twelve members of the Foothills Conservation Advisory Committee (FCAC) were citizens that had worked tirelessly to organize the grassroots Foothills Levy efforts – making phone calls, knocking on doors, tabling at community event, fundraising for the campaign, etc…

The language in the Code said the FCAC would sunset in 2008 if all the funds were expended. When 2008 rolled around there was still over $4 million left in the fund, so the City Council did a one year extension on the FCAC followed by a few other 6 month and 3 month extensions. The last extension ran out in September 2012. While the Foothills Conservation Advisory Committee is no longer, the City of Boise website would lead the public to believe that the committee still exists SEE THIS

In September 2012 the levy had been replenished from the sale of Hammer Flat to Idaho Fish and Game (July 2012), so there was about $4.3 million in the levy. The 154 acre N. Collister piece was purchased in December 2012 for $500K and then 260 acre Hillside to Hollow parcel purchased in May 2013 for $1.9 million (the FCAC is mentioned in that press release by the city as quoted by Jon Kaji of the sellers Boise Foothills TIC and then again at the bottom about the property being a priority of the FCAC). CITY RELEASE

In the Fall 2013, the mayor called all the previous FCAC members together for a meeting at the Foothills Learning Center. It was not a celebration of how we had stretched the initial $10 million to protect over $30 million worth of public open space in the Boise foothills, it was to ask us to be advocates on behalf of the $34 million parks and fire bond he wanted to pass in November.
During that meeting he said he would reinstate the FCAC if the bond passed. The bond failed that November and the FCAC was not reinstated. While I don’t have the most current figures, I do know that as of March 31, 2015, there was still $1.5 million in the Foothills Levy Fund, the City owns close to 4,000 acres of foothills Reserves. Since 2015, the city has acquired additional land.

I sat on the Open Space Matters planning committee in 2014 and asked City Parks Director Doug Holloway about the 2001 foothills levy language which involved the development of a citizen’s committee and annual audits.

I specifically asked Mr. Holloway how the city was in compliance with the language of the 2001 levy. Currently the City Council and Mayor are calling the shots without any input by a citizen’s committee on land acquisition. According to Mr. Holloway, the city’s legal department said that is fine. Personally, I find this concerning.
Here we are less than a month away from a second foothills levy which includes the same exact language indicating the “levy will be subject to both a citizen’s advisory committee and annual audits” yet if we look at what has happened with the 2001 levy the city has not been very transparent.

In addition, there is nothing that has been presented to the public to reassure us that the city (mayor/city council) will be transparent in their open space acquisition dealings. To be honest with you if the general public knew what has gone on the last three years, then folks would be asking the same question I’m asking where is the transparency?

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. The other slush fund is the fire station fund we voted on last year.

    This last week team dave said they had so much money from the fund that they could shift other money to playground equipment at a park on Federal Way – the critical center of where we need playground stuff. NOT

    The Mayor and council could care less about controlling cost or lowing property taxes. The Team Dave motto is spend, get more,spend more.

  2. Please vote NO on the levy. Especially if you do not live in the north end.

    The levy is nothing more than the mayors “payback” to the north end – nothing more.

  3. You are totally off base on this issue:
    If there wasn’t tranparency, how did you come to know about all of the transactions that, so far, have netted the people of Boise $37 million in property value for their $10-million investment. One of the most populare bond levies, ever! Sure, not every deal was made public immediately; that’s how real estate deals often work and that’s why they’re exempt from the open meetings law.

    The citizens’ advisory committee was chaired by former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Chuck McDevit. There are few Boiseans of greater integrity. He would not have let any malfeasance pass & deserves much credit for the huge success of the previous levy, which netted a nearly 4-to-1 rate-of-return.

    I love your owl pic, but a (Chinese) pheasant in an irrigated field as an example of habitat that the city should protect? You are aware, I hope, that hunting (the only Purpose of protecting pheasant habitat) is not allowed within city limits.

    EDITOR NOTE–Rabula, good point about hunting within city limits. That is part of the issue–converting open space to high density residential areas. Bieter and his team have annexed all sorts of farm land in rampant urban sprawl which places demands on schools, highways, etc. Current plans call for grabbing areas as far south as Ten Mile Creek out by the prison off Pleasant Valley Road. The sheriff has refused to continue to provide protection/patrol if the area is annexed. City claimed they were unable to provide police services out there.

  4. I support the foothills levy 100%. Virtually nothing else the city has done has contributed to the high quality of life we all enjoy like the 2001 foothills levy. I am not a north ender and yet I am able to enjoy the benefits of these purchases on a daily basis.

    Feel free to vote however y’all want to vote – that is your right and prerogative. However, when they tried this last year as a bond, it received over 60% of the vote, falling just short of the required 2/3. It will easily pass this time around, and we will all be better off because of it.

    Let’s not create a bugaboo where there is none.

  5. If you give it, they will spend it.
    Boise city (& ACHD) spend tax dollars like a drunken sailor.

    The city already can not take care of their existing parks & “open space”.

    Rabula, what difference does it make of a pheasant or not? Oh you want sterile open space. No wildlife allowed! Mountain bikes, dogs, and toddlers only.

    No on the levy.

  6. Knew it would pass. But we both did… You were right on the money again. When are the folks in this town going to wake up.

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