City Government

Dirty Tricks On Clean Water

In a classic “fox guarding the hen house” move, Boise city councilors favoring a sewer bond to accommodate development and increased population have approved a ballot proposal with no input from the public or folks who may be opposed to increasing public debt.

Labeling the proposed sewer funding hike totaling $810 MILLION as “water renewal,” the November 2 city election ballot will have the biggest bond request in Idaho local government history. Even though only half the Boise residents can vote for a single city councilor this year, we can all vote for or against this mega spending proposal.

The bond proposal timing is brilliant. The voter turnout is likely to be sparse and the North End district will be the big council race

The craftily worded City ballot proposal:

TO CONTINUE TO PROTECT THE BOISE RIVER, ENSURE RELIABLE SEWER SERVICES, ENCOURAGE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, AND TO TAKE CLIMATE ACTION, IN OCTOBER 2020 BOISE CITY COUNCIL APPROVED ESSENTIAL IMPROVEMENTS TO BOISE’S WATER RENEWAL SYSTEM (WITH AN ESTIMATED REPLACEMENT VALUE OF $3,000,000,000), INCLUDING UPGRADING AGING PIPES AND WATER TREATMENT FACILITIES, CONSTRUCTING AN ADDITIONAL FACILITY TO KEEP UP WITH CUSTOMER DEMAND AND LAUNCHING A RECYCLED WATER PROGRAM. IMPROVEMENTS WILL BE MADE AND CAN BE PAID FOR WITH CASH FROM HIGHER UPFRONT SEWER RATE INCREASES (UP TO 53%) OR FINANCED TO KEEP UPFRONT SEWER RATE INCREASES LOWER AND MORE AFFORDABLE. SHALL THE CITY OF BOISE CITY, IDAHO BE AUTHORIZED TO KEEP UPFRONT SEWER CUSTOMER RATE INCREASES LOWER AND MORE AFFORDABLE BY ISSUING AND SELLING ONE OR MORE SERIES OF REVENUE BONDS UP TO $570,000,000 OVER THE NEXT 10 YEARS?

X– IN FAVOR of funding clean water improvements by issuing bonds for the purposes stated in ORD-39-21
X– AGAINST funding clean water improvements by issuing bonds for the purposes stated in ORD-39-21

Boiling the question down to being either IN FAVOR or AGAINST clean water is akin to the classic, “Are you still beating your wife?” A legal challenge would be nice to obtain “judicial confirmation” the language is impartial and not electioneering.

This deceptive language would have voters think the City is “saving” money if they approve the bond. Sounds like the guy who bought a new fishing boat because the price was lowered $5,000. “Honey I bought a new boat and saved us $5,000.”

We all want clean water, but Boise has a never ending cycle of favoring costly growth, then working to solve the problems it creates. Money spent creating increased population and “density” would go a long way toward preserving a better quality of life AND water.

Growthophobes suggest this more realistic and honest language for the proposal:

“SHALL TAXPAYERS INCUR $570 MILLION ($810 MILLION WITH INTEREST) IN DEBT TO SUBSIDIZE REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT AND INCREASED POPULATION, INCREASED TRAFFIC AND AIR POLLUTION, DEMAND FOR NEW SCHOOLS, HEALTH SERVICES, POLICE AND FIRE SERVICE. A “YES” VOTE WILL DOUBLE CURRENT SEWER FEES FOR THE AVERAGE PROPERTY OWNER. WITHOUT EXPANSION OF SEWER AND WATER TREATMENT FACILITIES, GROWTH WOULD BE LIMITED.”

X–IN FAVOR OF highest debt in Idaho history
X–AGAINST higher tax debt to create more growth

The GUARDIAN suggests the legislature amend the ballot language process for municipal bonds to include “FOR and AGAINST” explanations just as we have on statewide constitutional amendment ballots. One way to create the language would be by a court approved order following open testimony from citizens.

To further promote their move to increase growth and help the real estate development folks, Boise officials have set aside $300,000 to “educate citizens.” If they spend the tax money, much of it will go to the same public relations individuals who were on the losing side of the F-35 and mega-library projects. Growthophobes would love to have a $300,000 “education fund.”

BOISE DEV has a good explanation of the financing scheme.

Comments & Discussion

32 comments for “Dirty Tricks On Clean Water”

  1. Night Trader
    Sep 27, 2021, 11:14 am

    And the beat goes on!! An acre of pasture disappears to be replaced by multistory apartments, etc., etc. And who picks up the infrastructure tab. It is a little late to face bond issues supporting that growth. I’ve yet to see an about-face where this need is somehow rubbed out by a NO VOTE. So suck it up taxpayers. Enjoy the ride your elected officials have created. By the way, we can also look forward to human tea made from the enhanced sewage collection and then delivered via Boise’s residential water service.

  2. “preserving a better quality of life AND water.”

    What is your proposal Editor?

    EDITOR NOTE–Limit the project to take care of only a moderate increase in population and not keep trying to attract more business and people to consume the sewer/water capacity.

  3. Bonnie Krupp
    Sep 27, 2021, 11:43 am

    How much confidence do you have in this city council and Steve Burgos to bring this in within budget? Just wondering as my knowledge of the director is he is a nice guy but not very experienced in this area of funding.
    His expertise is in climate change and that is his push.

  4. So limit the project.
    Just like the fishing boat in Jaws. $5,000 savings or not.
    “I think you’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

    It’s a 20 year plan. The ‘limits’ will be based on the city growth in the next 20 years. Any predictions?

  5. A couple of summers ago the City Council tried to market water recycling to us by drinking beer made from purified water. Now they are asking for a half billion dollars to inject treated (NOT purified) sewer into Deep Snake River aquifer. This aquifer is clean water because it is so deep that you drink from it without purification. Is this deceptive marketing?

  6. Concerned Neighbor
    Sep 27, 2021, 8:38 pm

    Woke = Broke
    Drop the fake green PR and you’ll drop the price by 3/4.
    One question on the bonds… have they factored in the ongoing double digit inflation that marxists have engineered? Are they variable rate and we end up paying a couple billion?

  7. Patrick Bageant
    Sep 27, 2021, 8:59 pm

    Dave, here are the brass tacks on the water bond:

    (1) federal regulatory requirements mean Boise will HAVE to send this money to build pipes and treatment for the next 70 years of residents to use; there isn’t an option on that part — there just isn’t

    (2) a “no” on the bond means the current residents have to pay for all of it, upfront, through massive rate hikes, even though many of them will be dead before they can use the improvements

    (3) a “yes” on the bond means we borrow money now, at around 2%, and then use that money to smooth rate hikes and shift the cost forward to the people who will eventually move here and benefit from it

    It really is that simple. A “no” is current residents paying for future growth. A “yes” on the bond is growth paying for itself.

    As to public participation, with all due respect, you’re a bit mistaken. The regulatory issues, how to pay for them, and bond option, all were vetted multiple times at the city council and public works commission level. Essentially nobody showed up but it isn’t fair or honest to say there was no opportunity for input — and that’s particularly true here, because the ultimate issue is being put to voters — the purest form of input — on November 2.

    Bottom line is that if you want to pay for future residents’ water treatment, by all means vote “no.” If you want them to pay for it, then vote “yes.”

    EDITOR NOTE– Councilor Bageant, I respectfully appreciate your position. While you make a good argument for debt vs cash up front, I question the grand scope and admitted driving force –“economic development and customer demand.” We constantly hear the cry that “you can’t stop growth.” If we comply with federal environmental laws and provide for a MODERATE growth, but not skyscraper apartments and acres of subsidized industrial parks, we can limit growth, have clean water, and preserve our quality of life.

  8. Dave we really need to refer to our public servants as that! They are elected , by us, appointed by our elected public servants or hired. By calling them officials you put them on a pedestal. If development can’t afford the infrastructure to support growth why do our elected public servants believe the existing property owners would support something most don’t want and can’t afford? Our local elected public servants are showing us how THEY work for lobbyist.

  9. “Climate action”?

    Can they expand on how increased sewer capacity will keep Mother Earth from overheating? Or is “climate action” just dropped into every boondoggle?

    According to the BoiseDev article, Councilperson Bageant (bless his heart!) is very concerned about low-income residents; he wants “to ensure new customers pay for the cost of the extra capacity.” At best, the bond will make the newcomers partially share that cost with the existing low-income residents. If they truly wanted the newcomers to pay for it, they’d factor the cost of expansion into new-construction impact fees, right?

    Anybody who can’t afford a $120 monthly sewer bill, can’t afford to live in our fair community! Let them eat cake!

  10. As for the ballot language, I went down that rabbit hole with some ACHD language a few years ago. Got nowhere. Someone needs to check for neutrality.

  11. Finally, some logical discussion on this issue! It is the same scenario that played out with library. Hold some meetings get limited feedback and use it has reasoning to plow forward. Until some one wakes up and calls BULL! The folks at City Hall know very well this would not pass public vote, just as the library did not. But we need more capacity in order to grow so let’s stick the taxpayer not the developer.

  12. FYI, Boise School District enrollment has been decreasing since 2011.
    This is the BOISE Guardian, right? Not the Star Guardian, or Middleton?
    So your fear of DEMAND FOR NEW SCHOOLS in Boise, is wrong.
    The BD story explains it pretty well- time for new sewer. Use it.Pay for it.

    Pay an occasional tip now, or pay for higher prices always. Cheap is seldom a good long-term approach.

  13. With some respect for Councillor Bageant, I flatly state the City DID NOT go to proper ends to advertise the ‘public hearings’ and actively solicit citizen input.

    Meetings of the City Council and Public Works Commission level are constricted: drive downtown, try to navigate construction of new condos, find parking, etc.

    How about taking the meetings to the people?? Move them around the City, like to high school auditoriums. Get the City Council out of its many-times renovated and remodelled City Hall.

    Stop being insular.

  14. Patrick Bageant
    Sep 28, 2021, 2:28 pm

    Western Guy: the meetings occurred over the course of the last year and a half and were virtual due to COVID. Anyone could participate from anywhere. They are still available on YouTube for anyone who wishes to fact-check me on that.

  15. WG, Wow. That was uninformed. Guardian, says ‘don’t spend money to advertise” WG says, “advertise more”.

    As the Councilmember makes clear, and ANYONE following Boise Council matters knows – it has been online and easily accessible.

    For this topic, we have seen it coming since the well commented “Water Into a Canal” dialogue here on BG and local media, a year ago (despite it not being listed as a related blog posts above). https://boiseguardian.com/2020/08/27/16519/

    Anyone savvy enough to post here on BG should be savvy enough to attend an online meet of the Council and likely any other govt online meeting.

    I for one, appreciate Boise’s fantastic efforts in doing just that. It has been easier to testify and the city staff has been great accomplishing the I.T. task.
    That task is obviously much easier in an established setting, rather than a traveling circus to various schools (putting a burden on those facilities), just to be more convenient for 2 people.
    It’s 2021.

    Good job to Boise Council holding meetings for the past 18 months!

    Amazingly, when we all flush- the system does work. Turn on the faucet- it works.
    When your system works, you want their system to work. That cost$ money.

  16. chicago sam
    Sep 28, 2021, 6:30 pm

    Seems like a perfect place for Impact Fees which are supposed to help growth pay for itself

  17. Maybe I missed it. Did Patrick Bageant and our other elected public servants make sure this issue was PRINTED on everyone’s Boise City Utility bill in the news and information Section? I don’t believe I missed it!

  18. With respect to Councilor Bageant’s last comment. Virtual meeting are awesome, but he should not assume that “Anyone could participate”. Elderly, that have a hard time using technology , often need help navigating to the correct link and/or installing software to participate in the virtual meeting. Also according the US Census Bureau, there are about 17% of homes in Boise without broadband internet service (Cell or ISP). So please do not assume that anyone can participate virtually.

  19. Had we just gotten that new Library! they could all go there to virtually participate.

  20. All good points Clancy. However, the in-person option is still available.
    So the virtual meetings have definitely expanded the possible audience in any condition and more so during this pandemic.

    From the city site:
    “City of Boise public meetings are hosted in a hybrid format – allowing both [!] virtual and in-person participation for most meetings.”

    – That “elderly person” might be quick on a computer and impossible to drive, walk, or get to an in person meeting.
    – The person with no internet, is also without online agendas, times, and timely updates. Their participation is severely limited due to typical process (a problem to be solved).
    I qualified my use by ‘anyone capable of the internet already’. People not capable of using the internet are segment to be considered, for sure.

    The lack of internet for some, brings up another city topic: city or public internet (more than the Library!).

  21. Patrick Bageant
    Sep 29, 2021, 11:09 am

    Thanks, Clancy. Unfortunately this is always true of public meetings. Locations can’t capture everyone — as you point out, some people don’t have access to technology, others can’t travel within the city, and so forth. That’s also true of scheduling in time: if we schedule meetings for the evening, some people are taking care of children. During the day, some people are working. We try to ameliorate that by holding meetings in many formats, at many times, and in many ways. We also solicit and read all forms of written input.

    In this case, we had many hours of public meetings in the last 1.5 years, and prior to that we had a four year outreach process that included multiple public surveys, open houses, focus groups and six months of meetings with a diverse advisory group of 20+ citizens who had expressed interest in this issue. It’s never perfect but I think our city staff did a pretty admirable job of reaching people here.

    Frank, actually, we have two separate mailers. The first is one going out soon and it will be followed by a late October reminder. The vote is November 2.

  22. Californication of Idaho
    Sep 29, 2021, 4:24 pm

    The cost of flushing a toilet should not increase at a rate greater than inflation. Yet it has, as have all utilities and taxes related to residential homes. Why? Because we are the low hanging fruit. We are an easy cash crop for these taxing districts and the utility monopolies.

    Farmers grow crops and livestock. Politicos grow taxes and fees. The favorite fertilizer the past couple decades is their holier than thou environmental excuses for every tax/fee increases with service reductions. All the while the city hall palaces grow in cost and grow inefficient with the fattest pay and benefits.

    Media:
    1) A chart to show the inflation of utilities and taxes going back to say about 1970 would be a eye-popper.
    2) How about a complete current list of pay and bennies at city hall? Including severance packages?
    3) How about a list of do nothing nonsense jobs at city hall?

  23. Would a bond issue eliminate properties that DON”T pay property tax from participating in the cost? If one looks at the properties between Broadway and 15 st. BSU, St.Lukes and Boise High school probably have more waste in one day than most homes have in a year! This is a question

  24. Great question Frank! Expectedly, users are paying their regular bills based on hook up and volume- water bill. Those users will repay these bonds.

    NOTE: the question is for REVENUE Bonds. Last sentence of the city proposal.

    The bonds are sold now, and REPAID with future revenue from users – not regular property tax (taxpayers).

    Such an arrangement is also used for the Boise airport. Similar but different as to who pays the debt.

    I am pretty sure I have not paid much toward the Boise airport. 😉

  25. Thanks for the clarification. I think of bonds being listed on our tax bill.

    EDITOR NOTE–These sewer bonds would be REVENUE BONDS repaid by user fees. Bonds repaid with taxes have the “full faith and credit” of citizens and are known as GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS.

  26. Transparency Bageant?
    Oct 1, 2021, 11:34 am

    Patrick Bageant makes a fine gaslighter.He says that the council and PW commission talked about this numerous times and guess what, no member of the public bothered to show.

    However, the City has a 22 member $1.5 million propaganda department called community engagement. And each department also has a PR spokesmouth. Yet apparently they chose not to engage the public. Did they send out postcards? No. Did they do some outreach to newspapers and the guardian and Boise dev to highlight these meetings? No.

    But they do appear to propagandize after the fact.

  27. western guy
    Oct 1, 2021, 4:52 pm

    Hey, give Pat Bag a break: the City will to TWO… TWO mailers just before the election, to ‘encourage’ your vote.

    There has been NO public engagement, to date.

  28. Received a flyer today Oct 13. Nothing at all informative regarding the sewer, errr I mean water reuse, bond. Wish there would be a “none of the above” option on the ballot. Gee what would happen if all or a big percentage voters left it blank?

  29. Boise Lawyer
    Oct 13, 2021, 7:28 pm

    GregN:

    “Gee what would happen if all or a big percentage voters left it blank?”

    Gee here is the answer: the Ada County Clerk would count the votes cast and certify the election for whichever side received more of them.

    There is no “none of the above option” because the city of boise is legally required to upgrade its wastewater system. It’s nice of them to ask how you prefer to pay for it and you should express your voice. By voting.

  30. Boise Lawyer: As I understand this involves much more the mandated updates. Understand that leaving blank will not make a difference in the outcome. But if, for example say 20% of total votes voted No, 30% voted Yes and the remaining 50% were blank. It would pass. But I would hope the powers to be would see the 50% were not happy and maybe start to think of a career change come re-election time.

  31. The Idaho Statesman described four major projects in today’s paper (Oct. 21); Lander plant upgrades, recycled water program, expanded capacity at the West Boise facility, and a new facility in southeast Boise. The new facility will primarily support manufacturing. I need to see more info for the $570 million investment for these 4 items before I can make a YES vote. The new facility is probably the most expensive and should receive funding from the corporations and not the citizens of Boise. I agree with the need to address the two existing facilities.

  32. Robert Hart
    Nov 2, 2021, 7:02 am

    Doesn’t Idaho have a 500 million dollar savings account right now? Isn’t the US government ready to pass a trillion dollar infrastructure bill? Shouldn’t the developers pay more for infrastructure, as they are reaping all of the benefits? Shouldn’t this bill be named the “Sewer Infrastructure Bond” and not “Water Renewal”? And if you look at the graph over time, and if you want to live in Boise for a while, if you vote yes now, your sewer bill will be $125 a month!

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