“A Higher Level”
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper
Swearing In Remarks
City Council Meeting, January 9th, 2014
When I announced my candidacy for Mayor last June on the patio of the Hilton Garden Inn, I said, “We already know Idaho Falls is a great place to live. But, I believe we can do even better. I believe it’s time to up our game and to raise our sights.” I still believe that. Idaho Falls is a great place to live, but we can do better. We can always do better. That is why I ran with a platform focused on three areas: 1) Solve; 2) Grow; and 3) Enhance. What that means is that I am committed to solving current problems, growing our economy and enhancing our community.
I would like to start by addressing a current issue, the North Loop expansion. We desperately need to expand our power grid or we risk loss of more precious economic development opportunities, possible brownouts – or worse. To quickly summarize the history of the North Loop expansion project, some property owners outside city limits sued the City over the issue of whether or not the City had the legal right to condemn property for new power lines outside our City boundary. One court case and an appeal later, the Idaho Federal District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the use of eminent domain could not be used as a tool in City toolboxes in Idaho. Legal constraints notwithstanding, I would like to point out that Idaho Falls has always striven to manage its growth in cooperation with its neighbors, not in conflict, and I agree with that. I also want to say it is time to put this issue behind us and move forward. It is time to focus our energies on a “Plan B.”
My commitment to the residents of Idaho Falls and neighbors to the west is to get to work in the next 60 days to move beyond the recent conflict and ensure the integrity of our power grid. We will first require a few weeks to bring the new council members up to speed, as the issue is far more complex than the sound-bite-driven-media would have us realize. Then I will host a meeting with the stakeholders along 35th West. During these conversations we will lay every option on the table, eliminate the unworkable ones, and study the practical ones until we can ultimately choose the best course for our region. We will work together to solve this and, hopefully, do so without resorting to the courts again.
I am comforted in the knowledge that Idaho Falls is not a lone municipality in its quest to deliver safe and reliable power. I believe this to be one of the defining challenges of the highly technological age we live in. The transmission of power entangles the entire power industry, and legal constraints are but one hurdle. This is why I am pleased to announce that later this year Idaho Falls will host the first Intermountain Energy Summit in conjunction with key local, state, and federal energy experts and policy leaders. The Summit will focus on policymaking challenges as they pertain to all of the key energy industries and issues in our region, including transmission. Some of the key local sponsors include Battelle Energy Alliance and the Post Register. We also have planning participation from the Governor’s Office and Congressman Mike Simpson, among others. I am looking forward to sharing more as plans are finalized in the near future.
Other front-burner issues that are important to the people of Idaho Falls include addressing the Downtown Fire Station, improving the aesthetics of city entrances and the I-15 corridor, planning for the future of Tautphaus Park, making our community more bike-friendly and helping our downtown thrive in the marketplace. Plans for my administration include addressing all of these issues—hopefully sooner than later.
During the campaign, I said my number one priority as Mayor would be economic development. I am very excited to report that some great things are happening, and the momentum is growing for the regional approach I embraced during the campaign. Many of you heard me say over and over again that “a rising tide floats all boats.” This old saying captures it well.
First, a few facts: Idaho Falls currently has an unemployment rate hovering around 5.2%—down from 5.4% last year. By most estimates, this rate is low—low enough to be symbolically close to full employment. That might sound like a good thing, yet most economists agree that low unemployment does not necessarily signal economic health—especially if it is attended by under-employment, as I suspect is the case in our area. For us in fact, one of the best growth strategies is to grow the workforce. We do this by creating jobs—but not just more jobs—they have to be better jobs—better than the kind of jobs we now have in the region.
In this year’s State of the State Address, Governor Otter noted that one part of Idaho has had particular success in growing a local economy — the Magic Valley. What is the key to that growth? Simply put, the Magic Valley has focused on selling their region, not just one particular part. The results are stunning. In the past year, Magic Valley has attracted three-quarters of a billion dollars in capital investment and created more than 1,200 new jobs. And, new employers are locating throughout the region - in Burley, in Twin Falls, in Rupert and in Filer.
I am told that last year Bonneville County grew its local workforce by 0.4%, a positive but modest gain. But we must also consider the national average growth of 1.2% which was 3 times greater than ours. I don’t know about you, but I say that anytime we are on the wrong side of a national average, there is room for improvement.
How do we grow our workforce? How do we attract new jobs? How do we grow the economy? I remain convinced that, like the Magic Valley, we too must adopt a regional approach. Instead of competing with Pocatello, Ucon or Blackfoot for new businesses and jobs, we need to sell the benefits of Southeast Idaho as a whole.
Within an hour’s drive, we have nearly 300,000 hard working people, three institutions of higher education, many major hospitals, airport and rail infrastructure, the Idaho National Laboratory and all of its contracted talent, strong retail, significant industrial capacity, some the world’s best recreational opportunities, and a wholesome lifestyle second to none.
Simply put, we are Better Together. Together we have more to offer. Together we can attract new companies with better paying jobs and grow our existing businesses. Together we can lift the economies of not just Idaho Falls, but also of Ammon, Iona, Ucon, Shelley, Firth, Blackfoot, Chubbuck, Pocatello and so forth. Together the case we can make to potential employers is more persuasive. When it comes to economic development, we are Better Together.
I am committed to this approach, and I will work with other public and private entities in the region to bring it forth. I will also take the necessary steps to ensure that the City of Idaho Falls is prepared to offer efficient, one-stop service whenever new business opportunities arise.
As promised, I will begin my service with the Citizen Review Committees. The purpose of each committee is to align the operations of the divisions with the goals of efficiency and effectiveness. We want to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s dollar while still offering the best practices in professional service delivery to our citizens. As announced, in this first year we will examine the following four divisions of the City: 1) Municipal Services; 2) Planning and Building; 3) Library; and 4) Idaho Falls Regional Airport. The remaining divisions will be evaluated in future years. I am now seeking committee applications for those willing to work and study the four divisions listed above, with a deadline of Friday, January 17th, 2014. Applications can be found on the home page of the City’s web site or at the City Clerk’s office inside City Hall, 308 Constitution Way.
In closing, I’d like address City Council for a minute. We’ve had significant turnover and many would say we lost some superstars. But you too are an immensely talented group of people with a wide array of relevant experience. I look forward to forging a partnership with each of you to make Idaho Falls better. I need your expertise and your differing views. I’m a big believer that an open process with lots of ideas is the best way to serve the public. Vigorous discussion, reliable data, thoughtful analysis, and absolute civility will mark the pathway to good decision-making, and I believe we can do that. I look forward to working with each of you.
I would also like to speak to our City employees. I already know we have very talented and hardworking people serving in the City of Idaho Falls. The service awards presented earlier this evening demonstrate so clearly the remarkable degree of fidelity to service many of you provide. We can use more of this. Please understand that I will need, and count on you offering your unfettered support and loyalty as we serve Idaho Falls’ citizens with a customer service mentality. Together, our caring attitudes and commitment to the City and its residents will result in limitless achievements.
A forward momentum takes teamwork, and I am excited to begin working with each of you. Our success will depend upon the combined talent of conscientious city employees, a vigilant city council, talented citizen volunteers, civic, business and industry leaders, motivated young students, and most certainly upon voting taxpayers—the very citizens we seek to serve. Idaho Falls can indeed move to a higher level and I look forward to the journey.
Mayor Rebecca Casper
City of Idaho Falls