HAYDEN — Like a child growing too fast for his clothes, Hayden's roads and public safety can't keep up with the city's increased traffic and rapid expansion.
And pretty soon, the city will be asking for the support of its citizens to help remedy the problem.
City officials are considering raising property taxes. But first, they will survey Hayden residents to see how they feel about addressing the shortfall. The survey should appear in the spring newsletter in April.
"The city cannot increase the levy beyond the 3 percent without approval of the voters," said Hayden City Administrator Brett Boyer. "Preliminarily they are looking at only increasing to cover the road maintenance costs and the costs for seven deputies, but they have not decided on a number yet. They want to see if the public, after knowing that there is an issue, would be willing to have the taxpayers consider it on a ballot."
Hayden's road conditions and traffic impacts have been on people's minds for a while. Boyer said Hayden's former public works director, Sean Hoisington, conducted a study examining the city’s roads a few years ago and found the city should be spending about $800,000 per year on maintenance.
That's not even close to what the city can spend.
"We've been budgeting about $300,000, so you can see, that's just going to continue to get worse," Boyer said. "We just continue to fall behind, and the citizens will start to see more potholes and more problems with the roads if we don’t do something."
The city's low property tax rate is a big reason why roads are suffering. Property owners pay just $1.28 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. For example, if a house in Hayden after exemptions is valued at $150,000, that multiplied by the levy tax rate (.00128) is what the homeowner pays for the year — $192. Neighboring cities’ property taxes are several times that. Rathdrum, a smaller city, has a tax rate of $5.77 per $1,000 of property value; a $150,000 house in Rathdrum costs the homeowner $865.50 in property taxes each year.
"Just like the roads and bridges that the state has to do, we are falling further and further behind in our ability to make sure that our roads are appropriately maintained," Hayden Mayor Steve Griffitts said. "This is not for an expansion or a change in any road system. This is simply to be able to maintain what we have."
Two notorious areas needing improvement are the bumpy bottleneck on Government Way just south of Prairie Avenue and the congested intersection of Ramsey Road and Honeysuckle Avenue.
A multi-city project will expand Government Way to four lanes from Hanley Avenue in Dalton Gardens to Prairie Avenue. That project requires Hayden, Dalton Gardens and Coeur d'Alene to work together as that stretch of Government Way touches all three municipalities.
"That project is supposed to be built this summer," Boyer said. "We have to pay our match, which is just over $100,000. And our portion, within the city of Hayden, goes from Aqua (Avenue) to Prairie, so it's just that very short stretch."
A financial drain for the city has been the class action lawsuit the North Idaho Building Contractors Association filed against Hayden over sewer capitalization fees. The $800,000 or so the lawsuit already has cost the city — and potentially more once the final judgment and possible appeal have been worked out — has put a halt on an impact-fee-funded Honeysuckle/Ramsey roundabout that was supposed to be installed last year.
Boyer said the city does plan to acquire rights-of-way for the intersection this year "and make sure we can preserve the area to put that roundabout in."
"It’s one of those roads that, because of increased traffic, we need to do something about. It backs up,” he said. "We’re trying to have growth pay for growth. When there’s more traffic, that’s a perfect way to use those impact fees. We now have more traffic, so we need to improve the intersection."
Although Hayden will not establish its own police department anytime soon, a voter-approved property tax increase would also benefit the city's ability to patrol and respond to the higher volume of calls that accompany a growing city. The city presently is served by four deputies through the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office and is in need of a few more.
The cost to the city per deputy is $75,000 per year, including salary and benefits. General funds are used to cover the cost. The city will pay $303,000 this year for those four deputies. However, to outfit a new deputy with a vehicle and first year salary is about twice that, at $145,000.
Boyer said it will take a few months before the surveys are returned and the data is collected, so a date for voting on the increase has not been set. November would be too soon.
“If we increase the levy ... it’s to be able to maintain (what’s) ongoing,” Griffitts said. “I don’t want to use levy money for one-time expenses, and that’s part of the problem that many governments have done. What we want to do is identify ongoing expense and match that to levy."