City considers 4-H land purchase


Plans for the city of Idaho Falls to acquire Bonneville County’s 4-H property on Rollandet Street are moving forward, though not as discussed in recent months.

In exchange for the property,

city and county officials had considered swapping ownership of the 911 dispatch building on Skyline Avenue, which the city owns, and where the county leases space.

Following pushback from new Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson, the Idaho Falls City Council and Bonneville County Commission considered alternative options, including an outright purchase of the land, where city officials would like to build an Idaho Falls Zoo education center.

City and county legal personnel drafted a purchase agreement for the property, as requested by the council during an Oct. 2 special meeting.

Per the agreement, the city would pay an appraised value for the 3.71-acre Rollandet parcel agreed upon by both parties. The payment would have a $600,000 floor and a $750,000 ceiling.

The city would pay a nonrefundable $50,000 fee upon execution of the agreement; that fee would be deducted from the total purchase price. The purchase price would be paid in full at closing, which would occur within 30 days of two-thirds approval of the agreement by the council and commission.

As required by law, city officials likely will schedule a public hearing regarding the land purchase. Afterward, the council can vote to approve the purchase.

If approved, city officials will need to carve money from the fiscal year 2017-2018 budget, which was approved in August.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper acknowledged the unbudgeted expenditure during a Tuesday council work session; she indicated the city will fast track the project by simultaneously working on the required hearing steps.

“One of the first things, if I were a council member, I’d want to know is ‘How are we going to meet the terms of the contract? Where are we going to come up with the money for the purchase?’” Casper said. “We’ll work on the financing piece at the same time we work on the hearing piece at the same time we’re getting ourselves comfortable with all the terms of the sale.”

City officials have identified the 4-H property — which the county is vacating for a more spacious plot near Sandy Downs — as prime location for a planned zoo education center. The land is adjacent to existing zoo property, and it includes buildings that could be used for possible winter zoo programs.

There is some urgency to acquire the land. The center will be built with a $500,000 donation from philanthropist William J. Maeck that is contingent upon beginning construction by June 2018. County commissioners also have indicated they will sell the 4-H property in spring if no deal is made.

Under the terms of the drafted agreement, the city would have the right to commence education center construction after paying the $50,000 fee. The county also would have the right to use existing buildings on the Rollandet plot for next year’s 4-H activities.

Casper said purchase financing will be explored by a small group including Parks and Recreation Director Greg Weitzel, Municipal Services Director Pam Alexander, council members Ed Marohn and John Radford, as well as a few others.

“This is a lot of money, a lot of money that didn’t run through the regular budget process,” Casper said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have the authority to spend it, we just have to reprioritize it under our existing budget.”

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.