Editor’s Note: According to Mayor Greg Nelson, this is the first time a Mayor of Kuna has given a State of the City speech. He addressed the Kuna Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, February 21, 2013. This is the full transcript of his speech.
We concluded getting Kuna into a better position would be a step-by-step process that would build on each step so that in the end, we could accomplish our major goals. So how did we do in our first year?
For various reasons Kuna’s reputation was clouded so that before we could begin the effort to improve the city and solve major problems, we had to normalize our relations with Meridian, Nampa, Ada County Commissioners, and Ada County Highway District. We have taken care of that and are getting along well with those cities and officials.
Our biggest problem was the new sewer plant and how it was funded. The Local Improvement District (LID) was passed when land values were reaching $70,000 per acre, but no one had anticipated a major drop in land values, or a recession or the speed with which everything changed in the entire nation. Land values in Kuna dropped to around $5,000 per acre while the LID added $11,000 per acre on top of the land value. No one would buy such land and few owners could afford to pay off the $11,000 per acre assessment. Things in Kuna ground to a halt and LID landowners joined together to sue the city and the involved banks to try to protect against having their land confiscated for non-payment of the LID assessment. This process was about two years old when we began working on it.
We hired Carter Frolich (Development Planning & Financing Group, Inc.), an expert on sewer financing to create a request for proposal to sell the plant. This would establish an industry accepted value for the plant or could even lead to a sale of the plant. No matter how we resolved the issue, we needed the value of the plant.
We then began a search for funding that would help us refinance the sewer plant. All state and federal agencies were contacted and invited to attend a meeting at the plant, and one by one our request for financing was turned down by all agencies and we were left on our own to negotiate whatever settlement we could with the litigants and banks.
This process took about a year, but on February 13, 2013, the final touches were put on the agreement that settled the issue. Results are that the litigants are no longer a part of the LID; the bank owns most of the hookups and people who have paid the assessment are free and clear to sell their hookups to whoever wants to buy them. The city owns the sewer plant and most people may now sell their land for its land value and the LID assessment is removed.
This issue is the most costly problem Kuna has ever faced and its settlement will again spur an upbeat in development in Kuna.
Another problem surfaced at the Kuna Senior Center. It seemed as though disputes had led to decreasing membership and considerable dissent among the seniors. Evaluation pointed to a lack of trust and some animosity toward the staff coordinator so the coordinator resigned, new officers were elected and the atmosphere returned to normal.
Since we were under an already adopted budget, it was difficult to start anything new that required dollars. One thing promised was that we would take a look at the Sheriff’s contract and begin the process of evaluating whether Kuna would be better off starting our own police department or staying with the Ada County Sheriff.
The sheriff requested that the budget increase by 15 percent for staff and by 17 percent for the Sheriff himself. With a strapped budget, we felt this was not the right time to consider creating our own police force and in addition the majority of the council did not want to consider creating our own police force. It was decided to stay with the sheriff contract. Currently that contract is approaching $1.5 million.
The next hurdle was to approve the Boys and Girls club building. This approval had been held up for over five years by the city. The directors of the club and the former planning and zoning administrator could not seem to resolve the issue. The club is now approved and is fundraising to build the club building.
It was determined Kuna had to improve economic development in the community and make it a priority. In keeping with that, the city joined with the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee and began the process of creating a pamphlet that could be distributed to interested parties so that Kuna’s demographics and strengths could be easily identified in the publication.
The pamphlet is now in its final phases with the help of Lisa Bachman and we expect that it will be finished by the end of the month. It will definitely help in recruitment.
Another vital role of improving economic development was to revamp the planning and zoning rules to make them more business friendly and easier to comply with. A committee was appointed which reviewed the entire planning and zoning rules and regulations and the council has now adopted better and more reasonable planning and zoning rules and regulations.
The third leg of economic development was and is to create an attractive and informative website that anyone could access and navigate to review our city, check out amenities, look at demographics, assess community events, look at schools, library, fire and police as well as transportation, utilities, taxes and recreation to learn if they were interested in our city. Currently the process is in progress with CGI finishing up the video portion of the website and consultants working on a modern and dynamic site that is user friendly and vitally important to our citizens and others wanting information.
Another promise to the city was that the billing for utilities would be removed from Caldwell and once again sent out by staff here in Kuna. Here again a step-by-step approach was needed before we actually could bill out of Kuna. Our plans are to modernize the software utilized by the city to consolidate all billing on one bill so that sewer, water, trash and pressurized irrigation would be consolidated in one bill. We also will include a process for level pay on irrigation and give a discount for those that pay utilities online. Billing will be consolidated in city hall and removed from the north wastewater treatment plant. City hall will be remodeled so that all billing will be on the west side of the main entrance into city hall and the city clerk and other functions of city operation will be on the east side of the main entrance into city hall. That work is now in progress.
Our goal is to provide what has been identified nationally as the top five services requested by city residents throughout the nation. They are:
1. Prompt response to
2. Municipal website that is easy to navigate
3. Online Payment options
4. Online Calendar
5. Text alerts about
emergencies or local events.
Since we were all embarrassed by the problems created when a community garden was considered two years ago, the city has been working to create a community garden on west Avalon right across from city hall. The city will provide the land and water. The schools will germinate seeds for transplanting and classes will soon begin on Thursday nights to teach the public proper gardening technique. Currently 30 people have signed up to participate.
Classes will be taught by the University of Idaho Extension Office and master gardeners from the Kuna area. Come join us as we learn the process of running a community garden.
We have been under pretty severe budget restraints for the past 5-6 years. This fiscal we were only able to meet the sheriff requirements before running out of revenue and this made it so that most projects were either put on hold or funded through private partners or grants to fulfill community needs. We are hopeful with the LID settlement and indications of renewed growth that the future will be a much better one.
2014 will be Kuna’s 150th anniversary. It was in 1864 that the Fifteen-Mile Station was built and became a major stop for stages and wagon trains from Boise to Silver City. In anticipation of this event August, 2014, a number of projects are being worked. The first is to extend Kuna’s greenbelt one-quarter mile from Swan Falls Road to Orchard Street. This portion of the greenbelt will be naturalized with flora that a traveler might have seen when they crossed Indian Creek in 1864. Kuna’s fifth grade students will help research plants and will assist in planting. A trail will be put from Orchard Street to connect with the bike path at the Swan Falls Bridge. A kiosk will be built identifying the Silver Trail Crossing and the 15-mile Station so that visitors will read of the importance of the trail and the 15-mile Station. Native plants will also be identified so that visitors can have an appreciation of what Kuna must have looked like in 1864.
Another part will be completing the greenbelt at Bridge Street, beautifying the curve from West Avalon to the main Kuna Bridge and improving the looks of the parking area serving the BMX track.
On the east side of town with the annexation of the Nicholson property, the Curve is being studied for removal and a 4-way stop considered at that site. The road coming into town would then become available for Commercial Development from the stop right on downtown. The Kuna side of the proposed stop would have a ‘Welcome’ sign and Birds of Prey information.
Highway 69 and Deer Flat Road will have a commercial development on the South side of Deer Flat Road. It will include a right in and right out from Highway 69 into the commercial complex as well as an entrance from Deer Flat Road. This is the site where Ridley’s and McDonalds are interested in locating.
We do need to decide on purchasing a city hall. We have asked for Tim Gordon to make an offer on the building we are in. We considered the old high school gymnasium but could not swing the finances right now so we would like to purchase a building so that all of our rent money isn’t simply lost to us. If we can eventually own our building it will improve our chances of affording a building of choice as we progress into the future. In any case we need to enlarge the History Museum and get it into a heated building so that we really can preserve our history. Either our current building or the old gymnasium school site would work.
Finally the question is being asked when will the roundabout at Deer Flat and Linder be put in. It should begin this year for the money is there now to accomplish it.
Second, the roundabout at Main and Linder will be the next one put in, but it is sometime in the future.
Third, when will ACHD advise us as to the route that is approved for crossing Indian Creek and the railroad. Consultants have been hired and should make a recommendation on the preferred crossing this summer.
Fourth, when will the Interchange at Meridian close interstate access to I-84? Construction will begin in early 2014.
The city has been working for three years to recommend the siting of the Gateway West 500kv electrical line that improves the northwest grid. Recently the Bureau of Land Management changed the preferred route from the northernmost part of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Natural Conservation Area to a route that takes the line through Kuna suburbs. This is totally unacceptable to us and has led to many appeals for returning the route back to the Birds of Prey Natural Area. BLM has not finalized the EIS, so the route is still not set. Should the line move through Kuna suburbs the cost in lost development would be tremendous.
In reviewing 2012 Kuna held it’s own.
The total 2012 budget was $12,331,321 compared to 2011 at $ 13,295,666 or approximately a 7.25 percent drop in expenditures. The city’s general fund increased from $2,744,042 to 2,749,666 or approximately a .02 percent increase.
The City population increased to 15,650 approximately 140 people over 2011.
In 2012 Total employees in the city were 31 plus five elected officials.
In 2011 Total employees were 30 plus five elected officials so city employees increased by one. As a comparison, Mountain Home has 46 employees and this does not include two in economic development, three in recreation, four in animal control. The 46 include those jobs that are in the same areas that Kuna has jobs.
The Kuna police force consists of 14 employees plus three associated SROs (School Resource officers) the city police budget increased by $142,977, an 11.18 percent increase. This is fiscal 2011-2012 compared to fiscal 2012-2013.
We issued 47 business licenses in 2012 and 41 in 2011, a 14.6 percent increase.
In 2012 Well number 10 was completed and added 1,700 gallons per minute to the drinking water system. This will serve the northeast section of Kuna and provide capacity for 1,400 homes.
In 2012 we issued 106 building permits compared to issuing 59 permits in 2011. This is an 80 percent increase from 2011.
The above figures indicate we are slowly pulling out of the recession. For comparisons, this year we surpassed Mountain Home in population but according to their demographics we have 15 less employees than they do. Looking around the state, most cities in our population range had at least double the employees that we have so it is factual that we are running a pretty frugal system, but we worry that we may be overloading our staff
Finally, in assessing how we are doing I would say, “O.K.”
A better budget would help us immeasurably, but that is why we are pursuing economic development. Economic development and expansion is what would really help us and spur a resurgence of Kuna. We are confident this will begin in the near future. Fortunately we have a fine city crew that is dedicated to the city and fully behind our efforts to improve city services and spur city growth and development. We have a good City Council, fine churches, great schools, exceptional fire district, proactive police dept. and a supportive business community so that we are poised for a future that we all will be proud of. 2013 will be a good year for us.
—Greg Nelson, Mayor