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The Internal Revenue Service Building in seen on Aug. 19, 2015, in Washington.


Local
breaking
Rooms with a view: Four-story hotel planned for canyon rim

TWIN FALLS — A hotel management company wants to build a Home2 Suites by Hilton on the canyon rim by the Twin Falls Visitors Center.

On Tuesday, the Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission will hear a preliminary presentation on a request to allow a hotel up to 60 feet high in the Canyon Park West development. The request has been made by Geronimo LLC, the landowner, on behalf of McNeill Hotel Co.

According to architectural renderings submitted by McNeill Hotel Co., the Home 2 Suites would have four stories and be situated just southwest of the visitors center and north of Petco.

The site’s proximity to the Canyon Rim Trail and the I.B. Perrine Bridge make it an attractive location for commercial development. But any new development could potentially exacerbate traffic issues at the Blue Lakes Boulevard North/Fillmore Street/Bridgeview Boulevard intersection. The City Council and Idaho Transportation Department have previously discussed potential solutions to the backup/delays, but no long-term solution has been proposed.

Hotel guests would exit the property via the roundabout at Fillmore Street and Blue Lakes Boulevard North, said Brent White with Geronimo LLC.

“There wouldn’t be a necessity for any reconfiguration of the roadway,” he said. “This is a small hotel.”

The Canyon Park West owners had originally planned to have two stores and a restaurant on that property, he said. The hotel would have less of an impact to traffic, White said, because guests are “not coming and going and coming and going like shoppers are.”

In order to proceed with the hotel, the companies would need to amend the development agreement with the city to allow for a hotel and increase the maximum building height to 60 feet.

COURTESY OF CITY OF TWIN FALLS 

McNeill Hotel Co. and GBA Architecture and Design provided this rendering of the proposed canyon-rim Home2 Suites hotel, obtained via the agenda packet for the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The proposal will come to a public hearing Jan. 29 for consideration by the commission. Tuesday’s agenda item is for presentation purposes only, and to allow the commission to ask questions.

Meanwhile, Canyon Park West had also been the proposed location for a Panera Bread in Twin Falls, but White said that company is no longer considering the property between Outback Steakhouse and the visitors center.

Also at the meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission will have a public hearing for a rezone at 304, 312 and 404 Washington Street South to allow for “heavy commercial” use. Gem State Dairy Products LLC has plans to build and operate a milk processing plant on the existing farm ground south of Glanbia Nutritionals.

City staff say the request meets the city code criteria and complies with Twin Falls’ comprehensive plan. The public will be invited to come offer their comments before the commission makes a decision on the rezone request.

The Planning and Zoning Commission meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 203 Main Ave. E. Also at the meeting, the commission will:

  • Consider reinstating a special use permit for a fourplex at 2140 Elizabeth Blvd., lot 26, due to the use not being established within the one year required after approval.
  • Have a public hearing for a city of Twin Falls request to vacate an undeveloped portion of Washington Street South right of way at the southwest corner of Washington Street South and South Park Avenue West.
  • Have a public hearing for a request to establish a fourplex at 1969 Shoup Ave. E.
  • Have a public hearing for special use permit request by Subaru of Twin Falls to operate an outdoor amplified audio system at 1725 Park View Drive.

Govt-and-politics
breaking
State of the State
UPDATE: Gov. Little proposes more money for teachers, prisons, Medicaid expansion in first State of State

BOISE — Education will be Gov. Brad Little’s No. 1 priority his first year in office, the newly-inaugurated governor told Idahoans Jan. 7 in his first State of the State address.

Kicking off a legislative session in which education, health care and criminal justice are expected to receive significant attention, Little’s suggested budget for fiscal year 2020 includes proposals to boost starting teacher salaries and add an additional 220 beds in the state’s corrections system.

The governor has also proposed using money from the state’s Millennium Fund to cover part of the cost of implementing Medicaid expansion, which he said will be done “using an Idaho approach.” The rest of the state’s portion of the cost would be covered by general fund offsets, according to the governor’s office.

“As governor, I will seek to reflect our shared Idaho values and aspirations,” Little said. “This means making decisions through one lens: the lens of ensuring the best possible opportunities for us, our children and grandchildren to remain in Idaho and enjoy our unparalleled quality of life.”

Aspects of Little’s address and budget proposal struck a bipartisan chord with some across the political aisle as well, Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum told reporters after the speech.

“I did a happy dance,” Stennett said. “Much of what he said about education and the highlights of his speech are things [the Democrats] have been working very hard for. I look forward to working with him on that.”

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Gov. Brad Little gives the State of the State address Monday afternoon at the Capitol in Boise.

Education

Increased funding for literacy proficiency efforts, higher starting teacher pay and coverage of the fifth year of the state’s five-year career ladder are all included in the governor’s proposed budget.

“I will continue our momentum and be an unrelenting advocate for educational excellence in our state,” Little said.

Recommendations include doubling the current literary proficiency base budget to $26 million. This funding would be distributed to schools and put toward efforts to ensure students reach the expected reading level by the end of third grade. Such efforts could include full-day kindergarten, reading coaches and summer reading programs.

“The variety of methods recognizes no one kid is the same and that Boise may not have the solution for what works in Bonners Ferry or Blackfoot,” Little said.

The proposed budget includes $11.2 million to raise the starting salary for first-year teachers to $40,000 while boosting second- and third-year teachers’ salaries by $3,000 each.

Rep. Lance Clow of Twin Falls, chairman of the House Education Committee, told the Times-News he wasn’t particularly surprised by any of the education-related content in Little’s speech.

“I felt good about his comments,” Clow said. He also liked the idea of raising starting teacher salaries to $40,000, but added: “We have to pay attention to the top end [of the teacher experience spectrum] as well.”

Largely absent from the State of the State address was mention of a proposal to change Idaho’s school funding formula and how the new formula could interact with some of Little’s recommendations, Speaker of the House Rep. Scott Bedke, a Republican from Oakley, noted in a press conference.

“I thought he was strangely silent on the public school funding formula,” Bedke said. “I think that would dovetail nicely into some of the things he wants to accomplish in regards to the reading [proficiency efforts].”

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Gov. Brad Little is escorted out of the House Chambers after delivering the State of the State address Monday afternoon at the Capitol in Boise.

Health care

Under Little’s proposed budget, roughly $10.7 million of the state’s portion of Medicaid expansion costs would come from the Millennium Fund, created as a result of the state’s master settlement agreement with tobacco companies.

An additional $9.2 million would come from offsets to the general fund, including Department of Correction expenses that would be covered under Medicaid expansion.

Little has not said explicitly whether he supports certain sidebars to Medicaid expansion, including work requirements, but said in his speech Monday that he would like to implement expansion “using an Idaho approach.”

“We need spring in our safety net so that there are multiple pathways for the gap population to move off Medicaid and onto private coverage,” Little said.

Democrats have urged Little and the Legislature to implement a “simple, straightforward Medicaid expansion” with minimal sidebars, as House Democratic Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding put it in a press conference Monday.

“The people of Idaho have spoken loud and clear when it comes to providing quality health care to their family, friends and neighbors,” Rep. Muffy Davis, a Democrat from Ketchum, said in a statement Monday. “Any efforts by the governor and his party to add barriers to coverage, while needlessly costing taxpayers money, is not acceptable.”

But Rep. Fred Wood of Burley, chairman of the House Health & Welfare Committee, told the Times-News he believes the majority of House members are in favor of adding work requirements, which would likely follow the same guidelines as the SNAP program.

“I think we’re going to have to have that to get the funding,” Wood said.

Other health care related recommendations include $50,000 to establish a statewide family caregiver program, funding to pilot a Zero Suicide program in two regions, and funding to create 18 new residency positions across the state.

Criminal justice

As Idaho’s crowded prisons and jails overflow with inmates, Little indicated Monday that he would like to see the state focus on rehabilitative and preventative measures to keeping people out of the criminal justice system. Little’s budget proposal did not include funding for a new prison, but did recommend adding an additional 220 beds to the state’s corrections system.

This would include expanding the St. Anthony Work Camp, which houses low-risk, minimum security inmates, by 100 beds, at a cost of $7.4 million. The work camp currently has 276 beds. A new community re-entry center to be built in North Idaho would provide an additional 120 beds, at a cost of $12.2 million.

These expansion options were chosen specifically because they would focus on “helping those in custody acquire critical skills to successfully transition back into society after release,” Little noted in his address.

“It will not resolve all of our bed space problems,” Little said in a press conference after his speech. “But it’s a pretty good one to get it started.”

The state currently has 750 inmates housed in Texas. Little told reporters he is not opposed to housing prisoners out of state, but added: “I’m really opposed to what we’ve done, which is send people out of state that are making the most progress getting mainstreamed back into society.”

Going forward, Little said, he plans to issue an executive order on substance abuse. This order will formalize the state’s five-year action plan on tackling opioid addiction, broaden those efforts, and create non-offender programs for substance abuse.

“This makes the most sense because treating addicts and those with mental health problems in prison is expensive and often too late,” Little said in his address.

Other recommendations in the budget include funding to add 15 new probation and parole officers and to increase correctional officers’ starting salaries.

Infrastructure

As Idaho rapidly grows, it’s important for the state to maintain and improve both its transportation and broadband infrastructure, Little noted in his address.

A lack of broadband access, particularly in rural areas, must be addressed, Little said.

“Idaho is seeing unprecedented economic growth in many parts of the state,” Little said. “However, that growth has not been matched in all of our communities. In my travels, I constantly hear how the absence of adequate broadband infrastructure is a deterrent to growth and economic development.”

Sen. Bert Brackett of Rogerson, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, told the Times-News he was pleased to hear Little address broadband access — which affects rural schools, businesses, and emergency services — in his speech.

“We’ll see what kind of progress we can make with that,” Brackett said.

Brackett said he also appreciated Little mentioning the importance of adequate transportation infrastructure in his speech. Brackett said he believes the state should use its surpluses for one-time expenses, such as bridges and other infrastructure projects.

In a press conference after the speech, Democratic leaders expressed concern over how a potential repeal of the state’s sales tax on groceries — which Little said he would like to see in fiscal year 2021 — could affect funding for transportation infrastructure. Rural areas, such as those in District 26, face particular challenges when it comes to paying for the upkeep of roads and bridges, Stennett noted.

“That’s just going to get exacerbated by the pressure of people moving in,” Stennett said. “We need to be thinking much further in advance about how we manage our revenue so that we can meet that demand, because all of that will see more pressure.”

PHOTOS: Little gives his first State of the State address

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.


National
AP
Trump heads to TV, border as fed workers face paycheck sting

WASHINGTON — With no breakthrough in sight, President Donald Trump will argue his case to the nation tonight that a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border requires the long and invulnerable wall he’s demanding before ending the partial government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face missed paychecks Friday as the shutdown drags through a third week.

Trump’s Oval Office speech — his first as president — will be followed by his visit Thursday to the southern border to highlight his demand for a barrier. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that he will use the visit to “meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis.”

The administration is also at least talking about the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow Trump to move forward on the wall without Congress approving the $5.6 billion he wants. Vice President Mike Pence said the White House counsel’s office is looking at the idea. Such a move would certainly draw legal challenges, and Trump — who told lawmakers he would be willing to keep the government closed for months or even years — has said he would like to continue negotiations for now.

Trump’s prime-time address will be carried live by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and NBC.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called on the networks to give Democrats a chance to respond. “Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” they wrote in a joint statement released Monday night.

As Trump’s speech and border visit were announced, newly empowered House Democrats — and at least a few Republican senators — stepped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to reopen the government without giving in to the president’s demands. The closure, which has lasted 17 days, already is the second-longest in history and would become the longest this weekend.

Leaning on Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing anxious about the impact of the shutdown, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week that would reopen federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds.

The White House tried to pre-empt the Democrats, telling reporters Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from the practice of earlier administrations and could be challenged.

“There is an indefinite appropriation to pay tax refunds. As a result ... the refunds will go out as normal,” said Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office.

The shutdown furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced another 420,000 to work without pay. The National Park Service said it was dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at some highly visited parks to maintain restrooms, clean up trash and patrol the grounds, after reports of human waste and garbage overflowing in some spots.

Over the weekend, the federal agency tasked with guaranteeing U.S. airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees missing work or calling in sick.

But Trump and the Transportation Security Administration pushed back on any suggestion that the call-outs at the agency represented a “sickout” that was having a significant effect on U.S. air travel. TSA said it screened more than 2.2 million passengers Sunday, a historically busy day due to holiday travel. Ninety percent waited less than 15 minutes, the agency said.

“We are grateful to the more than 51,000 agents across the country who remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public,” said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.

The talks over ending the shutdown have been at an impasse over Trump’s demand for the wall. He has offered to build the barrier with steel rather than concrete, billing that as a concession to Democrats’ objections. They “don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel,” he said.

But Democrats have made clear that they object to the wall itself, not how it’s constructed. They see it as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed-upon levels.

“Maybe he thinks he can bully us. But I’m from Brooklyn. You let a bully succeed, you’ll be bullied again worse,” Schumer said at a breakfast with the Association for a Better New York.

At the White House, spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp complained that Democratic leaders have yet to define what they mean when they say they are for enhancing border security.

“Democrats want to secure the border? Great. Come to the table,” she said Monday. “We are willing to come to a deal to reopen the government.”

Trump tasked Pence during the shutdown fight to negotiate with Democrats, including during talks over the weekend with Democratic staffers. But the vice president is increasingly being called upon to prevent defections in the GOP ranks.

Asked whether cracks were forming between the White House and Republicans eager for the shutdown to end, Pence told reporters, “We’ve been in touch with those members and others.”


Local
Twin Falls will still offer grant program — for now

TWIN FALLS — City Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins doesn’t think it’s the government’s job to support nonprofits with taxpayer money.

That’s the stance she took at Monday’s City Council meeting, where Council members once again deliberated the fate of a grant program that has awarded about $1.5 million to nonprofits over 15 years. The Municipal Powers Outsource Grants were designed to allow the city to support groups that provide services the city could or should otherwise be providing.

But over the past year, the Council has deliberated heavily on whether that program should continue. The Council on Monday voted 5-2 to continue the program for another year, under a new process, while future councils may consider changing to a more contract-based program. Hawkins and Vice Mayor Nikki Boyd cast the dissenting votes.

“I believe that we could be better stewards of our citizen’s money,” Boyd said.

Hawkins agreed, saying the city’s job is to pay for things such as roads and police services. It should be up to citizens to step up to the plate and donate to worthy causes, she said.

The city has budgeted $85,000 this year to award grants to groups that support the city’s strategic plan. Awards for each project are limited to $10,000 and will be given by an all-or-nothing decision by the City Council. In other words, each project will either be fully funded — or it won’t. In past years, the Council has granted partial funding for projects.

City Councilman Greg Lanting was a strong proponent for continuing the grant program.

“I think we can go an hour to help the less fortunate in our community,” he said, in response to previous claims that the discussion took too much of the Council’s time. “I can find things I’d rather cut than this.”

Chris Talkington said it would be “unconscionable” for the Council to turn its back on the program and its recipients. However, he and other Council members seemed amenable to the idea that the city could eventually implement a contractual process for granting money in future years.

Also at the meeting, the Council heard a presentation from the Twin Falls Police Department and Spidr Tech about a new service that’s been rolled out to help victims of crimes. Those who report crimes are now being notified via text or email that their report has been received, and a victim services coordinator follows up with them at a later time. The communications also include helpful information specific to the type of crime, based on which of 25 categories it is reported under.

In a world where Amazon customers receive instant order confirmation and updates, residents have come to expect that level of customer service from city services, too, said Mandy Duffy, Spidr Tech head of sales and customer success.

“We took the best parts of that system and learned how to apply that to your customers,” she said.

Next, the Twin Falls Police Department and Spidr Tech plan to roll out an automated survey to gauge the level of service victims feel they are receiving. They may eventually choose to send out updates on cases, such as arrest notifications, Duffy said. And the process could also be applied to 911 where victims are notified when police are dispatched to their location.

The Council also approved the appointment of Teresa Jones to the library board of trustees, and listened to a presentation about the city’s reimbursement resolution. The Council will hear an appeal with regards to that resolution next week.


itsme / ERIC GOODELL egoodell@magicvalley.com 

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence throws during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)