Mayor Rebecca Casper addressed the growth in all areas of Idaho Falls during her State of the City speech at Thursday night’s Idaho Falls City Council meeting.
“Idaho Falls is growing and the pace is brisk right now. And through it all, we will continue to light your homes, provide the water, mow the lawns, offer wholesome entertainment and respond when you dial 911,” Casper said.
The mayor led off her sixth annual speech with some of the most tangible signs of growth in the city: road work and construction. Idaho Falls spent more than $21 million working on infrastructure projects over the summer, including a $10.3 million upgrade to the water treatment plant as well as sewer and road improvements throughout the city.
“Every impressive new building project or business opening is preceded by these basic infrastructure elements,” she said.
Those major building projects also received significant attention as a sign of the city’s growth. Thirty years after beginning the Snake River Urban Renewal District, the area has added more than $200 million in property value to the city and the building permit office processed another $222 million in new construction last year, a record high. Renovations to the Civic Center for the Performing Arts and the city war memorials capped off the list of the year’s biggest projects.
Other avenues of growth from last year were less physical and more environmental. Idaho Falls led other cities in eastern Idaho to a settlement agreement over access to water in the Eastern Snake River Aquifer in the case of a drought. The speech also mentioned the new small modular reactor project at Idaho National Laboratory, which could offset all carbon emissions from the city through the Carbon Free Power Project.
“When we think about the future for our community, it is hard to imagine it without the very best technology. This includes fiber optics,” Casper said.
Idaho Falls already had unlit fiber for businesses but began a pilot program for its public fiber network in October and will continue building lines into eligible homes and neighborhoods until the spring of 2019.
The fiber network was not the only topic that will continue expanding into the next year. After initially breaking ground in 2017, The Broadway business center downtown opened its first new business, Smokin Fins, in December and more companies are expected to begin working out of the center soon. The city also announced plans to open Idaho Falls Community Hospital later this year and increase the number of routes leaving the city’s airport.
Near the end of her speech, Casper paused to applaud the officers from the city fire and police departments who had been sent to Florida to provide FEMA aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. She also called for the construction of a new police headquarters and offer more crisis services next year to help combat the state’s high suicide rate.
Combating suicide rates was not the only point of negativity in Casper’s speech. She advised citizens not to worry about the chaotic stock market results that ended the year and focus on the the jobs numbers in the “real economy” and the stability of the city’s economic bases in agriculture and tourism.
“Idaho Falls citizens need not become anxious when the gloom and doom economic whispers start up. We can be more confident,” Casper said.
After the meeting, Idaho Falls Fire Department deputy chief Duane Nelson called the chance to help after the hurricane a privilege and said he enjoyed the mayor’s speech in general.
“It’s exciting to see the achievements in the city and all the other departments,” Nelson said.
The meeting began with a statement from the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee during the time for public comment. Vice chair John Henager read from a resolution the party had passed earlier that night criticizing the Idaho Falls City Council for attempting to eliminate runoff elections for council seats and threatening to challenge any candidate who supported the policy in future elections.