Numbers Game 

Mayor outlines city budget priorities

From creating a whitewater park to refurbishing railroad tracks, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter has a long wish-list of projects in the proposed 2008-2009 city budget, unveiled June 14.

The announcement, made against a backdrop of what will be the new whitewater park, offered the first indications of what the city may be focusing on as the budgeting process moves forward. Among Bieter's top priorities is $750,000 for the start-up costs of the new whitewater park and the 55-acre Esther Simplot Park, off Pleasanton Avenue.

If approved, the contribution from the city would fund roughly half the initial costs of the much-anticipated whitewater park. Additionally, the adjacent Esther Simplot Park will include sports fields and nature trails.

"It's the kind of amenity that attracts the entrepreneurial, young demographic that all cities are trying to attract," said Bieter, who is running for re-election against city councilman Jim Tibbs.

The remaining half of the $1.5 million goal would come from private donations. Bieter believes the city's pledge will be the initial push for the fund-raising effort. Michael Zuzel, spokesman for the mayor, said he has no doubt there is enough community support for the park. "This is one of those projects we hear about on a weekly basis," he said.

Zuzel said the city will consider contributing an additional $750,000 toward the parks in several years. If that amount is matched by private donations as well, it would mean a total of $3 million to build the parks.

"This is one of the jewels in the Boise River parks system," said Jack Wilkerson, resource manager with the Boise Parks Department.

In addition to the parks, Bieter's proposed budget includes funding for an additional five police officers, two paramedic units and an emergency dispatcher. The budget also calls for Boise Airport's north runway to be repaved. While Bieter's proposal states that the Federal Aviation Administration is likely to provide discretionary grants for the project, the bill would still top $18 million. The city would likely split the total between the current 2007 budget and the 2008 budget.

Under the proposed budget, the ValleyRide public transportation system would receive roughly $5 million each year for general operations, capital and maintenance. Additionally, $113,300 would be set aside to repair the 18 miles of city-owned railroad tracks in southeast Boise, opening them to possible freight delivery.

The Boise Petroleum Fuel Facilities—also known as the tank farm off Curtis Road—is also on the list. Bieter suggests using federal grants to study the possibility of moving the tanks from their current location neighboring St. Alphonsus Hospital, several schools, law enforcement offices and the high-density Boise Town Square area.

The budget also lays out plans for the roughly $5.3 million the city estimates will be left over at the end of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Among the larger plans is reserving the $2 million profit from the sale of the Community House building for a permanent trust to be used specifically for homeless issues. By using only the interest from this trust, Bieter said, it would create a stable funding source, even when the city's budget varies.

The proposed budget will go to the council next week, where the process of hammering out the details will begin. Zuzel said he expects the budget to be finalized by mid-August.

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