Tax Relief

Meridian leaders are turning to lawmakers for tuition and property tax breaks

The legislative session has begun, and Meridian officials are hoping lawmakers will address two issues associated with growth: property taxes and schools.

Treasure Valley’s population has grown significantly over the past two decades, as have property valuations and individual property taxes. Last year, lawmakers passed HB 389, which limits the overall growth of a city’s property tax budget to 8% per year.

The bill has been widely criticized by city and county officials across the state.

“The 2021 legislative session has been a very trying one for cities in Idaho, including Meridian,” Mayor Robert Simison wrote in a letter to Gov. Brad Little last fall. “It is clear that HB 389 was not a sound policy or practical solution to the property tax problems faced by Idaho residents.”

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With the letter to Little, Meridian officials included some draft legislation for consideration, including a proposal to repeal HB 389. Discussing the repeal, the letter said HB 389 was “a failure of due process by the Idaho Legislature.” .

The city also proposed developing a split tax system to separate residential and commercial real estate and enacting an exemption for homeowners with an index provision.

By 2016, Idaho indexed home values ​​exemption. Then, at the urging of the Idaho Association of Realtors, the Legislature removed the indexing and limited the exemption, the Idaho Press previously reported.

Simison also proposed rolling back the circuit breaker regulations, which offer a tax break for low-income seniors and disabled residents and are capped by HB 389.

This year, the state’s budget surplus is about $1.9 billion, which Simison said could be used to pay down the school district’s bond debt.

“Idaho is well positioned to provide meaningful and real assistance,” Simison wrote.

Schools are an important issue in the fast-growing Meridian, which makes up much of the West Ada School District.

In November, West Ada School Board Chairwoman Amy Johnson testified before Meridian City Council about the extent of overcrowding.

Johnson, who did not represent the board, warned both Meridian and the West Ada School District that they will suffer “significant pain” if leaders cannot figure out how to manage growth and fund schools, the Idaho Press previously reported.

At the time Council Member Luke Cavener and Alderman Liz Strader said the school problem made it difficult to support housing projects in the South Meridian without a plan for the area.

Simison wrote in his letter that the Legislature should consider how impact fees could be used for capital expenditures, an idea echoed by some Meridian City Council members.

Impact fees for building new schools could help with overcrowding, Councilman Joe Borton told Idaho Press. The city council is in a tough spot because there’s a housing crisis, but school capacity isn’t unlimited either, Borton said.

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“Those are the discussions that you have to have. What if no new schools are built?” Borton said. “When that resource is exhausted, the ability to expand and grow our schools, are we going to do anything differently?”

Councilor Treg Bernt said he reviews each housing application on a case-by-case basis.

School fees could help with property taxes since West Ada bonds make up a portion of property taxes, he said.

“Hopefully in the next legislature they will listen and come up with something that actually introduces fewer property taxes,” Bernt said. “And help with the burden our citizens face.”

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