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Blackfoot residents question city’s plan to increase taxes, water usage fees

Local

BLACKFOOT — A proposed Blackfoot city budget would call for a 3% increase in property taxes — the maximum a city council can approve in a year.

Additionally, FCS Group — a government financial analysis firm — has recommended a 19% hike in water service fees.

During a public comments forum Tuesday, residents were allowed to address the city council regarding the budget plan. Five people took the opportunity to speak, each of whom opposed the proposed budget.

One of those speakers was Joshua Madson, who told the council that he has lived in Blackfoot for 19 years. He said his property taxes have increased in each of those 19 years, yet the city infrastructure has not improved. So, he questioned the council’s intention to use some of the increased tax revenue to hire additional city employees.

“We can’t maintain our infrastructure, yet we want to hire more people,” he said.

Mayor Marc Carroll addressed the comment following the public forum.

“We’ve not added a full-time person in at least five years,” he said. “We’re down people.”

The 3% tax increase generates around $160,000, according to Councilman Bart Brown, putting the city’s annual budget at $27 million.

Commenters also spoke to water issues and the proposal, which would see single-family residential homes’ water fees increase $4.16, from $21.90 to $26.06, monthly for 15,000 gallons.

“Our water systems have been contaminated twice in less than a year,” Madson said. “For the time that we spent boiling, purchasing, traveling to use other water sources, we should be forgiven of that water charge.”

RELATED | Blackfoot: water boil advisory still in effect, city receives sample results

He added, “Water fees should be refunded since the water was not drinkable for a time.”

Madson also spoke to the sewer water flooding that afflicted several of his neighbors.

“(Residents) have woke up to three inches of crap in their basement,” he said. “It’s time to address that.”

All five commenters spoke to the burden placed on city families with the ever-growing tax demand and the spiked home valuations.

As Councilman Christopher Jensen explained, though, it is the council’s job to determine the city’s needs and create a budget, and in some cases, tax increases are required to operate the city. It is the responsibility of the state and county to assess property values.

Councilman Bart Brown further explained, saying that with inflation at 9.1%, the 3% tax increase leaves the city at a 6.1% deficit.

“We can’t even take enough increase to cover inflation on the raw operating costs for the city of Blackfoot,” he said. “We’ve had to cut, essentially, 6% from the real cost of things because of inflation to make the budget work.

The council spent “hundreds of hours” hacking away at its plan to create an operational budget, Brown added.

Brown also addressed what he believes is “just wrong” on the state’s end. As he explained, property assessments for many homes in the city were made at peak market value. With the housing market softened, he said, residents will be asked to pay taxes on a valuation their home does not carry.

Madson closed his comments by demanding that the council make adjustments outside of tax increases. He proposed annexing county residents into the city and collecting city taxes from them. He also suggested downsizing government — firing city employees if necessary — rather than creating new city positions. If council members are unwilling to make needed adjustments, he recommended they sell their homes and donate the proceeds to the city.

The council will consider recommendations from staff and comments from residents before returning for its next council meeting on Aug. 2. They will vote on the budget plan at that meeting.

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