The two candidates in the only competitive City Council race in Idaho Falls presented different visions of the role of city government to Bonneville County Republicans Thursday night.
Stephanie Lucas, who is running to unseat Councilman Tom Hally, said the city has been raising taxes and spending too much and reining this in would be one of her top priorities. Spending, she said, has gone up by 28 percent from 2010 to 2018, far outpacing population growth, while property taxes have gone up by the statutory maximum of 3 percent plus new construction for the past few years.
“The Idaho Freedom Foundation states it is the great work of all City Councils to keep taxes down,” Lucas told the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee. “I will not vote for the maximum 3 percent (property tax increase) ... There are other ways we can go about this.”
Hally, who has been in office since 2004 and is Council president now, defended the current Council and argued in favor of a government that takes a more active role in certain areas, such as by spending on cultural and recreation programs.
“A city has to do more than just streets, police, and fire and that’s it,” he said. “It will sink.”
There will be three Council seats on the November ballot; however, incumbents John Radford and Michelle Ziel-Dingman are running for re-election unopposed.
Both Hally and Lucas are registered Republicans, according to voting records.
“To have any meaningful influence in this area, you pretty much have to declare for the Republicans, which I’ve done,” Hally said.
However, Hally said he thinks of himself as an independent and has voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past. He mentioned he favors nonpartisan city elections — under current Idaho law candidates in city elections don’t have a political party next to their names on the ballot, but the state GOP passed a resolution last year calling for partisan city elections, and several members of the Bonneville County committee have argued in favor of the idea.
“I think when you have a wide paradigm you can identify your own biases and kind of check them in place,” Hally said.
Lucas said she has read the Idaho Republican Party platform and agrees with its positions on strengthening families and on the role of government.
“The government that governs best is the one that governs the least,” she said.
Currently, the police department is spread out between eight different locations, and the city is considering building a new police station to bring them all under one roof. Lucas said she supports putting it in the former Deseret Industries building on E Street downtown, saying it would help revitalize the neighborhood around it. Hally said the city is still weighing several possible locations.
Lucas opposes giving city grants to private nonprofits such as the Museum of Idaho and the Idaho Falls Arts Council. Lucas said city government should focus on creating a good economy so private citizens, if they wish, can donate to charities.
“I don’t think it is the place of the city to grant money to nonprofits,” Lucas said.
Hally defended doing so, pointing to the city’s support for the Senior Citizens Community Center as an example of the value of such grants.
“Those senior citizens, they’re not living very high on the hog,” he said. “They need some help.”
Idaho Falls is one of eight cities in Idaho that holds a runoff election if no mayoral candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, and the only one that does the same for City Council seats. The Council has considered doing away with runoffs over the past year but hasn’t taken any action.
Lucas said she supports keeping runoffs. Hally didn’t say definitively whether he supports abolishing them, but in his answer he focused on what he viewed as their drawbacks, such as the cost to hold one — the last one in 2017 between mayoral candidates Barbara Ehardt and Rebecca Casper cost almost $45,000.