Editor’s Note: The title of this article was amended to reflect the council voting to move forward with increasing the fees rather than increasing them.
The city council met Monday without Councilwoman Nikki Boyd to discuss money transfers and to hold public hearings on drastically increasing public impact fees and to change the classification of one type of fee resulting in changes or raises to the said fee being exempt from public input or hearings.
The director of the Parks Department presented the first order of business: a request for additional taxpayer money to finish a Pickleball Court that has already cost $175,000 (an admittedly padded estimate.) According to the director, the court alone cost $175,000, which left sidewalks and lighting for the project unpaid. While most of the money came from other funds allocated for parks, the city council didn’t ask any questions about the amount requested, nor did they question why the padded estimate was not enough. The request to allocate another $80,929 ($21,000 from parking lot maintenance and $59,929 from a park restroom project) brought the project total to $255,929 (a 68% increase.) The request was approved 6-0.
The bulk of the meeting was taken up by two public hearings (combined together for brevity) on massive impact (building) fee increases. The state of Idaho requires that cities in the state who collect impact fees revisit those fees every five years. The cities do not have to change the fees, but they must review them at least that often. The city staff projected growth into the future based on past trends, along with advice from a third-party consultancy firm, and created a new impact fee schedule. The schedule was broken down into four categories: police, fire, streets, and parks. These fees are collected when new structures are built inside of Twin Falls, and they are non-negotiable. The police impact fees were decreased, but all three of the other categories were increased by an average of 100%. City staff claimed that the increases were justified since Twin Falls hasn’t raised their fees in the last five years. For those of you keeping track, that means that city staff, and the city council, believe it’s acceptable to raise impact fees by at least 20% per year. In the presentation, city staff also compared our impact fees to Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Star, Kuna, and Emmett to demonstrate that of all those cities, we would still be the second-lowest with regard to how much in impact fees we charge. This sounds good at face value, but if you think about it, they compared Twin Falls to the wealthiest, most progressive, and most expensive cities in Idaho. Claiming that Twin Falls is still cheaper than these cities, and thus that these impact fee raises aren’t egregious, is like having your house ransacked and thanking the thief for not burning your house down.
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Ultimately, Vice Mayor Ruth Pierce pushed for the earliest possible adoption of the increases, and the city council voted 6-0 to approve the massive fee hikes and to do so by November 1, 2021. If you find any of this surprising or uncharacteristic of your elected city officials, I would encourage you to make a trip to the next city council meeting and see for yourself how your taxpayer dollars are being spent. Meetings are on Mondays at 5 pm at City Hall.