In the annual State of the City address Thursday, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper celebrated the city’s achievements in the past year.
In 2021 Idaho Falls was ranked the best small city in the United States of America by the Milken Institute, citing its growing tech industry and wage growth. The city was also rated as one of the best places to retire by AARP.
Casper used her speech to take a victory lap in celebration of the city’s achievements, but acknowledged that the city’s growing reputation has come with a growing population. That increase in residents has also brought its own problems, including rising housing costs and increases in traffic and waste produced.
The address was Casper’s first after being reelected to her third term in office. She has been mayor of Idaho Falls for eight years.
“In that eight years Idaho Falls’ population has grown from about 58,000 to just over, who knows how much over, 65,000.” Casper said.
Casper said the city has kept unemployment low at 1.6% and kept money saved in case of sudden market shifts like those seen during the global pandemic.
“All of this means Idaho Falls is prepared and ready to endure the coming season of inflation,” Casper said. In 2021 inflation in the United States was 7%, the highest since 1982.
“The city leaders, we’ve got our eyes wide open and we’re not going to be caught unprepared,” Casper said.
Casper also addressed the surge in COVID-19 cases in eastern Idaho due to the Omicron variant, saying that several city employees have gone home sick recently. She cited a statement by Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President of the United States, that most people are likely to get COVID-19 at some point, though those who are vaccinated will fair better.
Casper said Idaho Falls is looking to expand its use of public transportation through the previously announced Greater Idaho Falls Transit program.
In regard to growth, Casper said the city is looking for ways to handle increased costs associated with an increasing population, such as the need to hire more firefighters and police officers, that do not rely on increases to property taxes.
“We plan for growth, but not at the rate that it has come upon us,” Casper said. “It kind of snuck up right in the middle of the pandemic.”
Casper said the growth was validating because it showed how popular the city has become. She acknowledged the increased need for housing, though added that the country as a whole is facing a housing shortage, not just in Idaho Falls.
Construction plans are in place to add new housing units, Casper said, that will break ground in the spring to help ease the rising costs in Idaho Falls. Demand is expected to stay high in the city as jobs draw more people to the area.
“That’s not a bad thing if we plan for it and stick to our plans,” Casper said.