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Idaho city spending $30,000 to market bond rerun amid property tax relief debate

Idaho city spending $30,000 to market bond rerun amid property tax relief debate

Dustin Hurst
March 3, 2020
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March 3, 2020

Rachel Lindsey, a longtime Fruitland resident and mother of five, has grown into a government watchdog. As her city heads toward a May 19 bond election, Lindsey is blowing the whistle. 

Fruitland city officials, she says, are wasting taxpayer dollars by advertising and marketing the bond, which is a measure identical to a measure that failed at the ballot box just months ago. 

Further incensing Lindsey: The city wasting $30,000 of taxpayers’ money even as property taxes continue to shoot up for many Fruitland residents. 

“Property taxes are out of control and then this?” Lindsey pointed out on social media. “It's adding fuel to the fire. If the city has $30,000 to blow just three months after running an advertising campaign for the same bond, clearly, they must have an abundance of money coming in.” 

According to the Independent-Enterprise, the Fruitland city council voted in late February to put the $2.8 million bond on the May 19 ballot. The bond would cover city hall renovation, plus construction of a new police station.

The measure failed in the November 2019 election. 

To educate voters about the 2020 bond measure, city leaders signed in February a $29,700 marketing contract with Atlas Strategic Communications, a Boise-based public relations firm. 

The city is using state revenue sharing dollars to pay for the Atlas contract. Revenue sharing dollars come from sales taxes paid by taxpayers to the state. According to city administrator Rich Watkins, Fruitland received $228,141 from the state last year. 

The Independent-Enterprise reports that Atlas will use the taxpayer funds to facilitate “a Fruitland Chamber of Commerce-hosted luncheon, brochures, door-knocking, posters, community events, direct mailing, digital advertising including social media, banners, yard signs, displays, earned media, videos and tours of the police station.”

The advertising spending comes as state lawmakers debate a measure to freeze property tax budgets for all non-school tax districts for a year. That measure would save taxpayers statewide roughly $90 million in property taxes, a welcome respite as government spending and rampant growth push such taxes ever higher. 

Lindsey, whose property taxes have increased nearly 100% over the last six years, urged Fruitland city politicians to give taxpayers a break. 

“We the people are burdened with taxes,” Lindsey highlighted. “We need relief offered, not more tax. I would like to see the police have more space without adding to our tax bill. Let's find areas to cut and save.”

Fruitland is no stranger to this type of wasteful spending.

In 2016, Lindsey sounded the alarm after Fruitland officials spent roughly $16,000 to advertise a $6.5 million bond. That bond measure would have allowed the city to convert the town’s vacant high school into a city hall and police station, as well as renovate the current city hall to serve the fire department and paramedic teams.

At the time, Lindsey slammed the city for the push because materials distributed by Fruitland officials were decidedly pro-bond. Anti-bond voices didn’t have taxpayers dollars to spread their message, the mother of five argued. 

Ultimately, the 2016 bond failed to pass at the ballot box, but it did spur change at the Capitol. In 2018, lawmakers passed into law the Public Elections Integrity Act, which forbids local governments in Idaho from advocating for or against bonds or levies. 

Though she cannot stop the Atlas contract, Rachel asserts she will watch the city’s public relations effort to ensure materials and messages disseminated to voters are neutral and educational.

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