If you think it is acceptable for the Board of Ada County Commissioners to keep unspent property taxpayers’ dollars at the end of each fiscal year for several years, place them in a slush fund for future use, and then spend them on a large capital project while providing few details and little or no public input, please read no further. If you consider such arrogant behavior on the part of our elected officials to be problematic, then I hope you are willing to take a few minutes to voice your objections.
At Ada County’s July 23, 2018, public budget presentation and hearing, a $15 million project – a downtown Boise parking facility – was briefly mentioned. In Ada County’s June, 2018, Master Facilities Plan document, on page 31, it says, “The County Courthouse/ Civic Plaza complex has an undefined need for additional parking. The availability, quantity & clarity of use at this complex needs to be addressed in implementing future MFP projects. There is significant public parking demand to accommodate jurors, customers, County staff and fleet vehicles.” (emphasis added)
Appearing within the recently adopted FY2018-2019 budget is a $15-MILLION line item in the “Capital Projects Fund” for Parking Facilities. On page 17 of that document, in reference to the project, it suddenly makes the one and only reference I have seen anywhere to “Total Lease Amortization”. What?!
From inside sources, I have learned the Board plans to execute their parking structure project protocol on Monday, October 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. I have also learned there are private-sector partners involved, but the public has been intentionally kept in the dark about their identities.
This parking structure is slated to be built between Second and Third Streets, near Myrtle, in Boise. From the Ada County Assessor’s website, I learned there are several parcels fitting that description, all owned by basically the same person/people: Stephen Schmoeger of Council, Idaho, and JSC Investments, Inc., in Boise. According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s website, the principals in JSC Investments are members of the Schmoeger clan, but the IDSOS website is now down for maintenance until next week so I cannot provide more specific information at this time. I do not believe I know any members of this family.
Many questions come to mind:
• Is this proposed project a purchase or a lease or a long-term lease-purchase? (as alluded to in the FY2018-2019 budget)
• Is $15 million the total project cost or will future Boards be required to throw millions of additional dollars into this venture in order to finally own the facility, like an earlier Board did with the Ada County Courthouse before I ever took office?
• Would it not be better to have a “defined need” rather than an undefined need before moving forward on this project?
• Why is this project to be built on what is now privately-owned property two blocks from the courthouse when the county already owns vacant land on both sides of the courthouse and across the street to the west, known as the “triangle lot” at Third and Front Streets?
• Why has there been no publicity and no public input process for this major capital expenditure?
• Do we really need another large, concrete structure in downtown Boise, drawing more traffic onto the already crowded streets?
• Has the Board spent enough time and effort exploring alternatives to a parking garage, such as busing or shuttling employees and potential jurors from outside of the congested downtown area?
• Why is the Board ramming this project through now, when a new Board – with at least one and possibly two – new commissioners will be taking office in January?
• Why didn’t the excess funds, referred to in the first paragraph of this article, go back to property taxpayers who are obviously being overtaxed?
Commissioner Rick Visser responded to concerns expressed about the project by a constituent by writing, “I have tried to persuade the other commissioners to explore alternatives as the price for parking garages is exorbitant. I hope the action can be delayed until a new board begins in January.”
In July, when dozens of concerned citizens e-mailed the Board about their proposal to collect another $3 million of forgone fund balance from property taxpayers, Commissioner Dave Case decided to join Commissioner Visser in voting no. Once Commissioner Jim Tibbs saw he was going to lose, even he changed his vote and voted against taking the additional property tax dollars.
If, like me, you believe something here doesn’t pass the smell test, please immediately take a few minutes to send an e-mail message to the Board of Ada County Commissioners at BOCC1@adaweb.net to voice your concerns. Time is of the essence, since two members of the Board – already ousted Dave Case and incumbent Jim Tibbs who faces Diana Lachiondo on November 6 – are planning to push hard to hustle this project forward as soon as this coming Monday, October 1. Thank you!