SHOSHONE — The Idaho Transportation Department’s board has voted to pursue property near Crossroads Point, signaling the agency may move its regional headquarters out of Shoshone and closer to Twin Falls and Jerome.
The board didn’t officially vote Thursday to relocate, but by indicating it plans to seek property near the Interstate 84/U.S. 93 interchange, the prospect of Shoshone retaining the headquarters appears in serious jeopardy.
Shoshone residents and political leaders have fought to keep ITD’s District 4 headquarters, saying the small town would face a severe blow if the agency moved. A study done by Bengal Solutions, a consulting group part of Idaho State University College of Business, earlier this year estimated an economic loss of roughly $82,000 to $125,300 a year due to less money being spent locally by ITD employees. About 60 people work in the Shoshone office.
“Moving the ITD headquarters out of Shoshone would have a devastating effect on the economy of Shoshone and Lincoln County,” Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said in a statement after she testified at Thursday’s ITD board meeting, held at the Shoshone headquarters. “Idaho’s small towns are fighting for their survival all over the state. As public servants, we should be offering solutions to cities like Shoshone, not making the problem worse.”
She, and Reps. Sally Toone, D-Gooding and Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, who represent Lincoln County in Boise, want the headquarters to stay.
“We’ve watched rural Idaho diminish as urban Idaho grows,” Miller said. “Anytime we have a chance to impact that in some way, I’m a fan of that, because I believe in rural Idaho.”
County Commissioner Rebecca Wood has been part of a task force working on the issue and has been trying to craft ideas to address some of ITD’s concerns about its current location, such as a proposed new collaboration between the College of Southern Idaho and schools in the northern Magic Valley and Wood River Valley to create a pipeline of local high school students who possess the sort of skills ITD needs.
While Twin Falls or Jerome counties might appreciate the new jobs and business, they don’t need it, Wood told the board, while the lost jobs and tax revenue — she said the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes the county gets from the federal government could drop by $50,000 a year — could be devastating for Lincoln County.
“I can tell you Lincoln County really wants you and really needs you,” she said.
But ITD says Shoshone isn’t an ideal location because many workers drive there from other communities, and a headquarters near Twin Falls or Jerome would make it easier to recruit and retain employees. The Shoshone building is too small and needs repairs, ITD says, factors that prompted the agency to first consider a move earlier this year.
The predecessor agencies to ITD have had a presence in Shoshone since the first decades of the 20th century. An ITD report last year concluded building a new headquarters on the current site would cost $3.76 million, but recommended building the new headquarters near Jerome or in Twin Falls instead for an estimated $3.94 million, saying the extra cost would be worth being able to lure more applicants.
The board could make its decision to move final in October or November when it approves its 2018-2019 budget request, although it could also leave the location open-ended, said ITD spokesman Nathan Jerke. The Legislature’s budget-setting committee, on which Miller sits, would have to allocate the money for ITD to build a new headquarters.
The board’s vote followed almost two hours of testimony from state and local officials and people who work in economic development and business attraction who all urged ITD to keep the headquarters in Shoshone.
Jim Kempton, ITD’s District 4 board member, said he sympathizes with those who want to keep the headquarters in Shoshone — he worked on rural issues as a legislator, and he lives in Albion, another small community that was hit hard when the Albion State Normal School closed decades ago. But, he said, the data support the move. District 5 board member Dwight Horsch was the only one to vote “no.”