TWIN FALLS — Following an eventful construction year, city officials had much to report on before state legislators head to Boise this winter.
Twin Falls invested millions of dollars into its public infrastructure and buildings. Hundreds of jobs were created. And commercial construction got a big boost.
As legislators plan for the upcoming session, City Manager Travis Rothweiler asked them to keep Twin Falls’ growth in mind — and what it’s accomplished with assistance from urban renewal funds.
“We would ask that the spirit of the tool be preserved,” Rothweiler said.
That being said, Twin Falls is well aware of its Achilles’ heel — a workforce shortage that’s resulted in some lost growth opportunities along the way.
Idaho Reps. Lance Clow, Maxine Bell, Stephen Hartgen and Clark Kauffman, and Sens. Lee Heider and Jim Patrick, attended the discussion on Monday, where they posed a few of their own questions to Twin Falls’ leaders. Here are some of the topics city staff touched upon during the meeting:
In updating the city’s strategic plan, citizens want public transportation and better routes for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“It was by far the single largest issue that those surveyed had spoken about,” Rothweiler said.
The 2020 U.S. Census results may require Twin Falls to fund public transportation if it hits the 50,000 population threshold. But the city has some time to plan ahead, as Census results probably won’t be finalized until 2022, Rothweiler said. Not only that, but any mandates will give Twin Falls a time frame in which to meet them.
Hartgen warned the city about establishing a fixed-route bus system. “They never deliver what they say they deliver,” he said.
Heavy snowfall, thawing and freezing last winter resulted in $9 million to $12 million in estimated damages to Twin Falls’ roads. Public Works Director Jon Caton reported the city budgeted $4.4 million in excess road funds to go toward the extra repairs.
Fortunately, the city will be reimbursed by state grants for 10 projects, eight of which are complete, he said.
In the meantime, the city will use the money it set aside to expand projects. A project on Pole Line Road and Eastland Drive has been bumped to 2018 and will be about a mile long. Construction will upgrade the road’s weight and traffic volume for a 20-year life, Caton said.
Workforce, housing shortage
Unemployment in August 2017 was 2.5 percent in Twin Falls and Jerome counties. A year ago, it was 3.4 percent.
Full employment, Rothweiler noted, is generally considered to be between 3 and 5 percent unemployment. To gain skilled workers, he’d like to see the state emphasize technical education in high school more than it already does, he said. He suggested a dual credit program for diesel mechanics.
“Not everyone needs or wants to go to college,” Rothweiler said.
It may help to retain Twin Falls’ graduates, but the availability of housing will be a complication in recruiting people to the area. Residential homebuilding was down this year, and the city faces a shortage of homes selling at or below $225,000.
Twin Falls will have to upgrade stormwater retention and treatment when it hits 50,000 people. The city will no longer be eligible for Community Development Block Grants, and right now, property taxes are its only way to pay for those upgrades, Rothweiler said.
The Twin Falls airport sends out three, 50-passenger flights per day, and they’re about 80 percent full. The airport also serves 150 diversions from Sun Valley annually.
“Maintaining support for regional airports is absolutely critical as we move forward,” Rothweiler said.
No local-option tax
Twin Falls is missing out on potential revenue, and Rothweiler said he would like to see citizens be able to vote on a local-option sales tax to fund projects.
“It is a tax that is voted on by the citizens in the area that would be impacted,” Heider said. “And it’s a very minimal tax. It’s like half a percent.”
This type of tax, as proposed, wouldn’t allow the city to go into debt, but it could save up money for specific projects approved by residents.
“Forty-eight percent of law enforcement contacts are with people who do not reside in the city of Twin Falls,” Police Chief Craig Kingsbury reported.
And drugs continue to be a major problem. Over the past two years, he’s seen a shocking increase in the amount of heroin coming into town. Meanwhile, the city has encouraged providers to not over-prescribe opiates to patients, and Twin Falls police are waiting to see what could happen if a marijuana establishment is allowed to come to Jackpot, Nev.