By W. Greg Nelson, Mayor
In reviewing 2013 we can report the City is in better shape than the previous year. Some of the major hurdles we faced have been settled and fiscally the city has improved. Kuna is not quite back to pre-recession levels, but we are improving. Our staff is hard working and productive. We are implementing career paths and longevity pay to help our employees plan for their future.
Our most serious and major hurdle was the $36 million lawsuit by Kuna landowners against the Local Improvement District (LID) financing of the Ten Mile Road high-tech Sewer Plant. This lawsuit was settled in 2013. The settlement released the financing lien on most of the properties, and in exchange the properties gave sewer hookups belonging to those properties to Key Bank for open sale so the bank may recoup some of its loan losses. Several properties were sold and the proceeds were given to the bank. On the other hand, Lands that were not in the lawsuit have been able to purchase sewer hookups for development. In the end all properties (with the exception of one lot) involved in the LID are cleared from the financing lien, and they have returned to fair market value. Kuna now owns the Ten Mile Sewer Plant and the city has plenty of sewer capacity to accommodate the city’s needs for the foreseeable future. Recently the city put out a letter to bankers, brokers, realtors, title companies and others explaining to all that the LID lawsuit was settled. Lands in Kuna have returned to fair-market-value. Rumors that Kuna lands were still tainted by an LID are not true and construction in our area is a very good investment. This past year we added 138 homes to our city, which are 36 more new homes than the year before.
Budget wise, this year we decreased the total budget 46.28 % but that was because we had to increase the 2013 budget to include the settlement of the LID lawsuit. Total 2014 budget is $11,656,787.00 compared to $21,697,599 last year.
The General Fund increased to $3,466,720 from $2,958,809 last year or a 17.17% increase. Full Time employees increased from 34.21 last year to 35.01 this year, so we continue to run the 14th largest city in Idaho with a staff that is considerably under sized compared to other cities of our population. All other funds in the city are in good shape and 2014 should be an affordable growth year for the city.
It appears that the availability of irrigation water could be a major problem for Kuna and in Southwest Idaho in 2014. This past year we used up Kuna’s water allotment and had to turn off irrigation water on August 22. This year looks poor at this time and without additional moisture the city will be scrambling to make our irrigation water allotment last through the really hot August season. Kuna is looking at its available options to increase irrigation water in the city, and will be asking for your help in conserving precious water. These latest storms are helping.
Another promise to our citizens was to take a look at the police services contract with Ada County. Our Policing Contract includes staffing of 13 officers, one secretary plus 3 associate School Resource Officers. This New Year includes a $97,627.00 increase totaling $1,518,954.00 which was primarily salaries or about a 5% increase. With city employees getting a 2% increase this year, the police services contract increases faster than any of our other city employees. This inequity leads to comparisons and some employee dissent. Last year the increase was 11.18 % so this year is a little more manageable and not as controversial. We are pleased with the officers’ assigned to Kuna and are glad to report our crime rate is not increasing and the problems we have encountered with drugs in our youth have not gotten any worse thanks to the good efforts of Police Chief- Justin Dusseau and other officers assigned to Kuna. At this time, the council is not considering a change, but we will again look at the costs and pros and cons of creating our own force vs contracting with the sheriff. We also continued our contract with the Ada County Prosecutor to prosecute Kuna city code and misdemeanor violations. We are watchful of this contract too, but we are getting better reports on activity on our behalf from the Prosecutor so will again evaluate these costs vs. hiring our own prosecutor. This year the costs of the contract increased from $44,666.00/year to $48,911/year. A 9.5% increase.
Economic Development is a priority for Kuna and our Ec. Development Committee includes the City of Kuna and Kuna’s Chamber of Commerce. With the help of an Idaho Power grant, we were able to produce a beautiful Kuna brochure that includes all of the reasons and demographics of why you should want to locate in Kuna along with other marketing literature. We do have a number of businesses looking at us to locate here and a number of businesses that have committed to build in the spring. We would like to welcome Dr. Doug Croft, who built a beautiful new Orthodontics building and this year moved into the new facility. Ridley’s opened their new grocery store plus Ace Hardware in a very impressive building on Meridian Road, Falcon Ridge Charter school is constructing their new building and St. Alphonsus has opened their new clinic in Kuna.
This year we will continue to push economic development for our community, for we have gone too many years without business development in Kuna. Taxes are paid primarily by homes, whereas, a city our size should have about 40% of assessed taxes paid by businesses. If we had a bigger business base, homes in Kuna would not be hammered as hard by taxation and it would make living a little more affordable. Economic Development will include a new industrial zone of 400 acres south of the railroad tracks and east of Cloverdale Road. This site will be zoned and opened for recruitment in 2014 and will make Kuna more competitive for manufacturing entities to locate in Kuna City Limits. A recent plant that looked at that site employed 1,500 people, so it is evident that an industrial site in the right location would help our city immeasurably with commerce and employment opportunities.
Another part of the economic development plan was to create a modern, informative and easy to navigate website, so that our own citizens as well as others could access our website and easily find out most of the important issues about us, including demographics, community events, taxes, recreation, schools, safety and amenities. Our new website has been developed and is in growing use. Our hope is that this site becomes the main source of information for our citizens as well as others wishing to know more about Kuna. We feel the site is fulfilling the need and is meeting our expectations so we look forward to continued growth in 2014.
One of our promises to our citizens was that we would remove utility billing from Caldwell and bill out of Kuna. This has been a step by step approach to make sure that the process was handled smoothly and did not lead to problems either in the billing or paying of utilities. The switch has still not been made, for even though we moved personnel to handle the change, the software allowing for consolidated billing of sewer, water, pressurized irrigation and trash proved problematical and has required much more software preparation than we would have guessed. We are again hopeful we will make the switch this year and that the new system will be better and less expensive than continuing to bill out of Caldwell.
This past year our Seniors reported that there were problems, some disputes and membership challenges at the Senior Center. Fortunately this has now stopped. We have not replaced the Staff Coordinator, for the Center seems to run better without a Coordinator. The center has returned to a place to gather, eat a good meal and enjoy the company and comradeship of Kuna’s elders. We are very pleased with the transition back to normal and thank Teri McIntyre for her great leadership in solving the problems at the Center.
The Gateway West transmission line issue was not resolved in 2013, although the route of the line from Wyoming to Southwest Idaho was set, the 2 lines routing to the Hemingway Station were not set because of the controversy generated by Kuna over the 500kv line passing through Kuna’s south city limits and by Owyhee County over the line going through critical Sage Grouse habitat and private property in that county. The BLM created a sub-committee to make recommendations for the location of both lines and these recommendations will go to the full RAC (Resource Advisory Committee) for approval and then to the BLM for adoption. Kuna’s Mayor is appointed to the committee. The process will be completed sometime in 2014 and the final location of the line could have a profound effect on Kuna. If it were located in Kuna’s city limits it would effectively stop any development in the southern part of our city for the line consists of 150 to 180 foot towers and large highly charged lines that no one would want to live under. Hopefully the final route selected will not adversely affect Kuna.
This past spring with help from Kuna’s Little League, the Parks & Recreation Department completed building a snack bar at the city ball fields and erected a flag pole that really improved the looks and serviceability of the City Ball Fields.
A lot of brush and weeds along Indian Creek were removed and new benches and tables were installed along the greenbelt. The Indian Creek Greenbelt is becoming a major city attraction and more of it will be completed this year. We also began the process to protect our youth from cigarette smoke. This past year we banned smoking in areas where children congregate or play in our parks and greenbelts. We improved safety by offering a bike, skateboard and scooter competition hosted by Kuna’s city personnel, in coordination with a safety day hosted by Kuna and Kuna’s Ada County Sheriff personnel and Kuna’s
Fire Department personnel. The event was well attended and it will be repeated each year.
This past year ACHD was very busy in helping Kuna with a downtown automobile circulation project, conducting hearings on improving traffic flow on Linder and Deer Flat, and progressing on a plan to construct an overpass across Indian Creek and Union Pacific Railroad. Recommendations were made but not all finalized in 2013 and this year the city will make the decisions on proceeding ahead. Site selected for the overpass was Swan Falls Road. With the recent recession in mind, decisions on spending big dollars are certainly not easy and will require due caution.
Kuna’s Boy Scout Troops and Eagle Scout candidates have been a great help to the city this year for they have built Burrowing Owl Nests, erected safety crossing flags at dangerous intersections, moved wild plum trees along Indian creek and helped prepare the new section of the greenbelt for construction of paths and picnic spots. They have become a very vital part of city improvement as we grow and mature.
2013 marked the first time Kuna has ventured into community gardening. A building lot the city owns across from city hall was chosen as our garden site and under the good leadership of Bobby Withrow and with help from Bob Bachman and Natalie Purkey, the lot was cleared and irrigation lines were added. Bob Merrick built and donated 25 raised gardens, Pat Reed made a very attractive and functional storage shed for use in the garden and compost was donated by Lou Murgoitio and Sam Johnston. Seeds were donated by the Idaho State Seed Lab and tomatoes and a large assortment of peppers were started and grown by the Ag Department of Kuna High School in their Greenhouse. About 25 people planted gardens and a bountiful harvest was produced. Everyone enjoyed the community garden and this year we are planning a bigger garden to teach our kids how to grow and enjoy vegetables as well as continuing to use the garden plots across from city hall. This year we have a grant from Union Pacific Railroad to help convert 3 acres across from Indian Creek School to a garden and tree nursery not only to teach gardening but to help stop a dangerous and major trespass route across the Union Pacific tracks in that area.
In 2013 Kuna appointed a bicycle path committee to work with the city and ACHD to expand our bike paths and trails as well as make them contiguous with other bike paths in the city and county. ACHD began placing signage in the city along bike paths for the public to know their location at the sign and how far it was to schools and other major destinations in the city. The signs are very popular and help the bike traveler know just where they are in Kuna. We began working with BLM and ACHD to expand the bike path and trails to Kuna Butte and to Initial Point. This year we expect to have a spring clean up in the area and begin the trail work.
The city is expanding the Indian Creek greenbelt this year and will construct bike paths and trails from Swan Falls Road to Orchard Street. This will be a historic part of the city for it was in 1864 that the Silver Trail crossed Indian creek at this site and it also was the site of the 15 mile station/house where stages and wagon trains between Silver City and Boise/Idaho City could stop for a good meal, fresh horses and rest before traveling on. We intend to plant garden plots with flora that would have been seen in 1864 and will mark with kiosks the location of the Silver Trail crossing and 15 mile station. In addition a kiosk will be erected near the Swan Falls Bridge locating the site of Kuna’s former Train Depot
With grant writing training for Chris Engels, Kuna has once again prioritized obtaining grants to help us with our goals of improving the city. We are proud to announce that we have secured over $262,000 in grants since May 2013 and have applied for many more. We will continue with these efforts, for we believe that grants offer a great way to accomplish much needed projects to improve Kuna without having to increase taxes.
This year we will be modernizing and beautifying the SW entrance into Kuna. I have lived here for over 50 years and Bridge Street looks the same as it did when I arrived. With the help of ACHD, Bridge street will have sidewalks, the Shortline/Bridge Streets intersection alignment will be improved, the bridge itself will be beautified and the right turn from Main to Bridge will be improved. Kuna will finish the greenbelt at that site and this entire entrance will finally look nice as you enter Kuna from the West.
2014 not only is Kuna’s 150th Anniversary, but it is also the “year of the Kuna kids.” This year we will be putting a recreation district together to provide monies to run a community swimming pool and support a complex including a Boys & Girls Club and YMCA. In addition we will be trying to build a 20 acre sports complex at the same site so that football fields, baseball fields and soccer fields will be available for use by our kids. This is an exciting project and 2014 will be an exciting year. Finally, Kuna is offering a solution to that long-standing complaint that our kids have nothing to do in Kuna and get in trouble because of it.
We started the process in 2013 and this year we intend to bring the idea to the voters and get on with becoming a modern, larger city with solutions to our problems. Kuna Schools are expanding their very successful after school programs, the city is expanding its Parks and Recreation Dept. to offer classes and training and the community has walking clubs and other events springing up to interest our families.
Kuna has been very successful in getting grants to help us achieve success and one of our recent grants is the $150,000.00 High Five Grant from Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation that will help provide our youth with incentives to become better, both physically and mentally as they challenge the future. Look around Kuna, businesses are growing, schools are growing, housing is growing and our community is facing our future by providing the best we can for all of our citizens and especially our youth. Kuna is still the youngest city in Idaho with nearly 40% of our population under 20 years of age, so youth is a big part of our community. This past year we painted the city water tower and with the help of the Kuna Student Body put a Kavemen “K” on the tower. This was done as a lasting symbol to show we love this town, we love our kids and we are proud to be KUNA.
It has been my privilege to serve as Mayor for the past 2 years in preparation of a bright future. 2014 will bring a great year of achievement in Kuna. Our course is set, our resolve is high and we are on our way. The future is now. Join us in celebrating and experiencing it.