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POCATELLO —David Worley says the city’s tax rate is too high for local workers, in large part because the city government has “taxed and spent too much for the growth we have.”

In her second year on city council, Christine Stevens grew increasingly convinced that the city is not planning the future well and that city administration should be more transparent and financially accountable.

Under his leadership for more than a decade, Mayor Brian Blad said the city had seen a drastic drop in unemployment, as well as significant wage growth, and had become a much more attractive place to do business.

The three are the best candidates – offering very different opinions on state affairs in Pocatello and the best way forward for the city – in a group of five mayoral candidates in the November 2 election. Sam Laoboonmi applied but suspended his campaign for personal reasons. Idaho Sierra, who ran for old positions as Idaho Lorax, is a standing candidate who has not invested in a campaign and said he filed primarily to use the platform to raise awareness for its environmental concerns.

Worley and his wife, Barbara, lived in Virginia for several years but eventually returned to their hometown, Pocatello, about a year ago, fearing that Virginia would begin to restrict freedoms and impose draconian policies, such as COVID-19 restrictions.

Much to their dismay, Worley said he and Barbara discovered that freedoms were eroding in Idaho as well. Worley said he decided to run for office to resolve this issue.

Worley was born and raised in Pocatello and graduated from Pocatello High School, where he met his wife. He joined the army out of high school, serving with the 1-148th Field Artillery Battalion. In 2004, it made its first deployment to Iraq.

He also served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Philadelphia. He completed the first half of his BA in Political Science at Idaho State University and completed the degree at George Mason University in Virginia.

After graduating, he resumed his military career, becoming an officer in the United States Army and serving two more tours in the Middle East.

Upon his return to Pocatello, Worley divided his time between here and Wyoming with the military. He recently resigned from his active-duty military post to focus on his candidacy.

Worley said controlling the city’s spending and cutting taxes would be top priorities. Lower taxes would also boost business investment, he said.

“The levy rate is too high compared to the city’s low median household income,” Worley said. “Job growth and population growth have been quite anemic. The city’s tax increases are increasing at a much faster rate.

If he is not elected, he said working as a seminary teacher for his church or taking a full-time position with the local Army National Guard could be an option.

Worley believes the town’s staff is too large compared to other towns of comparable size. He would like to restructure, reducing staff through attrition to provide “the same services with a more efficient and smaller force”.

He also believes the city should consider privatizing some services, such as the local aquatic complex.

Worley has experience running an organization with similar staff to the town. He was the operations officer of an infantry battalion of about 500 soldiers, planning large missions.

In his view, one of the main roles of municipal government is to protect the rights of individuals against the courts and higher levels of government. He offered the Second Amendment issues and COVID-19 mandates as examples. While he is not against people wearing face masks or getting vaccinated against COVID-19, he is concerned about “forcing a whole population of people to put something in their bodies.”

“I’m not a doctor – it’s not my area of ​​expertise – but I think we should be aware that there are reasons to worry (about the COVID vaccine) that people have, and we have to respect that, ”Worley said.

During her 20-year career as a public school administrator, Stevens wrote collaborative strategic plans, created measurable goals, and documented progress toward achieving those goals.

Based on her experience in city council, she believes that similar good planning and accounting practices are not in place in Pocatello city government.

“I know that knocking on doors, a lot of people feel very overburdened with property taxes. I think we need to have frank conversations about what the city can do about it, ”Stevens said. “Running a budget between $ 130 million and $ 136 million without a long-term, focused collaboration plan is not offering taxpayers the best value for their money and is not serving the community the way we should.”

At the departmental level, Stevens said some departments have good plans and others don’t. But she thinks that even good departmental plans exist “without a global urban context”.

“I have spoken a number of times about the need for a focused economic development plan, which we don’t have,” Stevens said. “I believe the city has an important role to play in developing an economic development plan that fits with its long-term strategic plan.

Stevens believes the city’s current budget process forces its departments to compete for limited resources. She thinks managers would appreciate the opportunity to work “within the context of a long-term strategic plan” that would make budgeting more collaborative and less competitive.

“I introduced myself to the board on accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility. I have done everything in my power to bring about discussions on fiscal responsibility, ”said Stevens, adding that she has never shied away from asking the tough tax questions.

Stevens asked the city’s CFO to produce a full set of Pocatello’s tax policies and procedures. After viewing this presentation, Stevens said it became apparent the city had work to do to improve them.

“Our policies are largely outdated and we need to review and update them,” Stevens said, arguing that the policies do not reflect widely recognized best practices.

Stevens said the exercise also made it clear that the city lacks procedures outlining how to implement those policies. In addition, she said the council did not have a “spending plan”.

“I think we have people and departments are doing a great job, but in terms of providing them with a comprehensive, organized and focused context in which to do their jobs, we don’t have that,” Stevens said.

Stevens believes in implementing term limits for elected officials. She believes the city should also put in place a director general who can work with department heads, which would ease the transition and allow the city to continue with its long-term plan if there is a change of mayor.

She said she would work with the council to review their statutory authority, fulfill all of their statutory responsibilities and “fully implement as the third equal branch of government.”

Stevens believes that over the years the councils have abdicated their responsibilities and powers in favor of the executive.

Stevens said she would draw on the expertise of the local business community by setting up advisory firms. They would be made up of volunteer experts who would help solve economic development issues, organizational structure policies and other issues.

Blad believes the city has undergone a transformation for the better since he took office in 2010.

At the time, he said the city was borrowing money from its utilities to make payroll. Today he said Pocatello has a balanced budget and enough reserves to fend for at least three months.

In 2010, Blad said the Idaho Department of Labor estimated the local unemployment rate at 10.6%, up from 2.7% today. The 39,000 local residents who are currently employed are almost double the workforce in 2010, and the hourly wage has risen from $ 11 to $ 19.70, he said. The city has also added around 260 businesses since 2013, he said.

“I ran on the idea that we would try to improve the lives of people in Pocatello,” said Blad.

Blad believes he contributed to this growth by removing some city policies that hampered local investment. He explained that the city has streamlined the plan review process and consolidated development ordinances and codes, many of which were contradictory.

The city has also streamlined some of its physical operations, combining several departments in one location and selling other properties in the city, he said.

During his tenure, Blad said Pocatello has gone through many milestones. The south valley connector is complete. The Idaho Gold Star Families Memorial has been completed in the Northgate multi-use development. The Great Western Malting Plant has roughly doubled in size. Amy’s Kitchen has opened and employs approximately 1,000 workers. Allstate Insurance has opened a local call center. The FBI made three extensions. Occupancy is on the rise in the city center.

Blad believes the city has also strengthened its relationship with Idaho State University.

Blad set up a reading challenge for local children and the Mayor’s Scholarship Fund, which awarded 10 scholarships of $ 2,000 each.

Regarding criticism from opponents that the city has not planned for the future, Blad noted that the city is currently updating a comprehensive plan to guide the community for the next decade.

“The city of Pocatello has a comprehensive plan that absolutely guides and directs the departments and guides and directs the events of the city,” said Blad.

Blad said he was comfortable with the city’s current pick rate, which he described as the middle of the pack. The lion’s share of the city’s budget comes from revenues and subsidies from public services. As for the portion of the budget that comes from property taxes, Blad said police and firefighters account for the majority of spending, and he sees no public appetite for cutting emergency services.

“I believe our responsibility is not to fund but to continue to fund at the right level,” Blad said. “… I think we’re in pretty good shape where we are now. “

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