State of the City (2021) ~ Mayor Sykes
To the citizens of Mountain Home, it is with great excitement that I present this year’s State of the City. As your Mayor one of my top priorities is to make your local government transparent and accountable to the citizens of our town. 2020 was a difficult year, but I am proud of our community and the way we cared for one another. Like many cities in Idaho, Mountain Home was fortunate enough to enjoy continued growth and prosperity, despite the pandemic.
At the beginning of this year, the city department heads and I formed the “Executive Leadership Team.” We set aside an entire week for analysis, coordination, and planning for our town’s future.
During that planning conference we defined our Mission as “enriching the quality of life for our community through effective partnerships, and providing infrastructure, excellent service, and balanced growth while preserving, protecting and enhancing our hometown character.:
Our Vision for the future of our community is “To be a self-sustaining, uniquely diverse environment with a vibrant hometown feel that provides opportunities for future generations to thrive. To provide modern innovation, promote a prosperous economy, and foster a sense of community and family while encouraging an active and healthy lifestyle that provides its citizens with every opportunity for success.”
We promise that we will strive to reach this vision with integrity, loyalty, selfless service, professionalism, unity, and continuous personal growth.
The Executive Leadership team has set ambitious goals and objectives for the next five years which will help us continue to provide exceptional services to our existing residents and prepare for the inevitable growth to come. The three primary goals we will focus on in the future are 1) Increasing our housing availability; 2) Improving our infrastructure capabilities; and 3) Enhancing quality of life for our citizens.
We recognize that one of the keys to our community’s economic prosperity is to make sure every Mountain Home resident has access to quality housing options. Unfortunately, there are many external factors that are making this goal more and more difficult. Lack of housing inventory, the exponential increase of housing prices, and increased migration to Idaho has created a demand for housing like none we have seen before. Our neighbors at Mountain Home Air Force Base are experiencing similar difficulties. At any given time, about 500 airmen who work on the base have to commute all the way from Boise because they can’t find suitable living quarters nearby. One of my main goals for the rest of my term is to fix that problem and make sure all Mountain Home residents and our airmen have a place right here that they can call home.
I have directed our Community Development Director to make it his top priority to ensure that Mountain Home’s regulations concerning residential growth and housing development encourage the immediate construction of various housing options. The Community Development staff and the Planning & Zoning Commission have partnered to strip our zoning ordinances of unnecessary red tape that prevents practical and favorable development, and the City Council has voted favorably for these changes.
Last Fall we partnered with Mountain Home Air Force Base to create an online housing summit where we were able to talk with developers about the improvements we made to our code and about the high demand we have for housing both in the city and on the base. Housing developers from all over Idaho and throughout the country tuned in to learn about our needs and we are happy to say they have answered our call.
Based on development applications we have received and preliminary meetings with developers, we are forecasting that approximately 1,500 new housing units will be constructed in the next 3 to 5 years. These units will include single-family homes, apartments, townhomes, and duplexes. The City is already reviewing an application for a development on the north side of town that will bring 230 new homes to our City.
First, I want to update you on our progress with the Downtown Revitalization project. We finished up Phase II construction on South 2nd East in November. I could not be happier with the outcome of the first two phases of this project. Of course, the new, wider sidewalks and landscaping help create a whole new pedestrian-friendly environment as we had hoped, but another real benefit is something you might not have noticed unless you were paying attention. One of the primary goals of this project was to repair and replace aging infrastructure below the street’s surface – water mains and our outdated stormwater drainage system. We have done that on both Main and 2nd now, and the results were phenomenal. During our last heavy rain and our more recent melt-off from a major snowstorm, we saw ZERO flooding downtown.
Phase III will begin on the east side of South 2nd East in April and is expected to be complete in time for Air Force Appreciation Day. We’ll also be repairing sidewalks and roads on cross streets from East Jackson Street to East 5th North. This will mark the end of major construction in our downtown core, but it’s only the beginning for the new life the project has breathed into our downtown business community.
We have had six new businesses open downtown since we started this project, and more are coming in soon. The fact that so many new businesses are opening here and in other areas of town during this pandemic is a tangible sign of the strength of our local economy and the resilience of our community. I want to thank all of our downtown business owners for their support and patience throughout this process. We are making these improvements to benefit everyone through infrastructure repair, walkability, and safety, but also to show our support for our small businesses by creating a whole new atmosphere in our historic downtown. I also want to thank Idaho Transportation Department and the Mountain Home Urban Renewal Agency for their support. Our partnerships with these organizations have been critical to making this plan a reality.
As we prepare for this final phase, our downtown businesses can be assured that we will be working to make sure they are kept informed of the plan and that their questions and concerns will be addressed with the same care and respect that we have offered every step of the way. If there are any concerns or requests that you need addressed, please feel free to contact me or our Community Development Director, Brock Cherry, here at City Hall. When we get closer to breaking new ground, Guho representatives should also be in regular contact with our downtown businesses to provide schedule updates, temporary parking changes, and planned water outage notices.
On a related note, the Mountain Home Urban Renewal Agency has also announced that is has accepted a proposal from Treasure Valley Development LLC to invest more than $2 million into the downtown Beall’s building to open our community’s first-ever trade school – Mountain Home Adult Training Academy. This school provides coursework and certifications for nine different trades, including HVAC, welding, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, millwrights, iron workers, pipefitters and construction laborers. This project has huge potential for immediate impact on our local economy, providing job training opportunities for our blue-collar workers and helping to attract new industries who know they can find skilled, certified employees right here in Mountain Home. Thanks to the URA board for their dedication to Mountain Home and for showing great imagination in the different ways they are supporting our community.
Quality of Life
Fiber Optic Infrastructure
As we prepare for these changes, our Public Works and Community Development directors are working hand-in-hand to ensure our ability to provide quality City services and keep pace with new development and growth.
The newest of those city-provided services is fiber optic internet connectivity. This project is especially important to me because of the positive impact it will have for all our residents, businesses and students. Fiber optic internet infrastructure will ensure Mountain Home businesses are able to stay competitive in the world economy, will ensure our students have the best-available access and learning opportunities, and will invite more fair competition into the local market, providing residents with more Internet Service Provider options at lower prices and higher speeds. Today, we have laid more than eight miles of fiber in the ground, which is providing high-speed internet to City Hall, Mountain Home Police Department, Mountain Home Fire Department, Public Works, Parks & Recreation, Desert Canyon Golf Course, the city’s well system and four city parks.
Our police department has already begun to reap the rewards from this project. The department now has the bandwidth to allow prosecutors to access body camera and dash camera footage without officers having to burn the video to a CD and hand deliver it. In the future, the increased speed and reliability of fiber will also allow for real-time viewing of those cameras.
I know most of our residents are excited about this project. We receive calls almost daily at City Hall from residents asking when we will be able to start bringing this infrastructure to residential areas. While I can’t pin down a solid date immediately, I can promise you that its coming. My goal is to have started our fiber optic network to private residents and businesses by the end of this year. The City Council also voted unanimously to hire a new position, dedicated to answering the public’s questions and helping to organize and implement our effort to extend the program directly to our citizens.
Municipally owned fiber optic infrastructure is an idea that is sweeping the nation for a lot of reasons. According to a recent article from the Open Technology Institute, transparency in pricing, cost to consumers and speed are among the top reasons municipalities should consider providing the infrastructure that allows more ISPs to provide services but doesn’t support hidden fees or bandwidth throttling. The same article named Ammon, Idaho as the lowest-cost, municipally owned fiber optic network in the country. We are following this model closely because I want to make sure Mountain Home doesn’t get left behind as the rest of the world moves toward the future. We’ll continue to provide updates on this as we progress.
Mountain Home Industrial Park & Rail
Next, I want to give you an update about Mountain Home Industrial Park and Rail. As you are probably aware, this planned industrial park is based around the availability of 4.25 miles of rail spur we were able to transfer from Mountain Home Air Force Base ownership to the City. We pursued this because of the amazing potential it has to create a wide variety of new technical and professional jobs for our citizens and Air Force families.
Since then, much work has been accomplished. First, we have annexed approximately 400 acres of land adjacent to the rail spur to set the stage for success. This annexation and working closely with the landowner will ensure the availability of shovel ready plots to interested businesses.
It is also important to our community that we do our best to attract the right types of industry. That’s why we partnered with CRS Engineers. CRS provided key planning documents, including preliminary site plans, financial estimates, and others that will help the city to be competitive for state and federal grants that will allow for the continued development and success of the park. Securing these grants will be a crucial step toward making some necessary repairs and site preparation that will help make the site practical and attractive to a variety of industries.
We have also earned Union Pacific Railroad’s Focus Site designation. This special status ensures industry leaders that:
|•||The rail design has been approved by Union Pacific|
|•||Utilities and roads are accessible to the site|
|•||Local development support is available; and that|
|•||There is a single controlling landowner|
Union Pacific features all of its Focus Sites on its web page and helps market those sites to businesses seeking reliable transportation and distribution services. And in case you haven’t heard yet, Mountain Home is the ONLY site in the State of Idaho to hold this designation.
We have also given the site it’s official name – Mountain Home Industrial Park & Rail – branded the site for informational and marketing purposes and launched a new website. Go to mountainhomerail.us for more information.
I’m truly excited about our progress and look forward to the day when our team’s hard work begins to pay off for our citizens in the form of new employment opportunities and a stronger local economy.
As our city grows, it’s important that we make sure our first responders are prepared to respond to new challenges. Mountain Home Fire Department and the Mountain Home Rural Fire Protection District are being proactive about preparing for the future. These organizations teamed up to make their first major joint purchase and bought a 2012 Ferrara Smeal Tower with a 100-foot ladder. The new tower will improve safety for all of our local firefighters and will give them more options when they are fighting fires or conducting rescue operations. This new truck meets our current needs and will serve us well into the future as our town grows. I’m proud of the partnerships that brought this joint purchase about and the way our Fire Department staff continuously looks for ways to improve and embraces the challenges that come with that. We’re lucky to have so many people from our own community and from our partners at Mountain Home Air Force Base Fire Department who are willing to put in their own blood, sweat and tears to make this department great.
Parks & Rec
Our Parks and Rec team rose to the challenge and knocked it out of the park. The department earned our first Association of Idaho Cities award for excellence. The association recognized Parks & Rec for the outstanding exercise and nutrition programming it provides for our residents, AND for the innovative ways it adapted our Arbor Day celebration to be both successful and safe for participants despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has also applied for and received three new grants worth $37,000, which will be used to create a new outdoor fitness area that will be open to the public this summer.
Construction is complete on your new skate park at Richard Aguirre Park, and we opened it for use in August. The skate park has been one of those long-term dreams in our community that has involved many different people and organizations over decades. The City took the project over during my first term as mayor. We found our funding through some amazing grant programs and put it to use to break ground as soon as we could. I love seeing residents and visitors out there doing what they love on this world-class design.
The next major project is to replace our community pool. The current pool has far exceeded its expected lifespan and we can no longer just limp it along through another season. Our Recreation Superintendent has done a fantastic job of making do with what we had up to this point and has been at the forefront of planning and collaborating with experts to come up with a new design and funding options. We are currently applying to Idaho Parks and Recreation for a Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant. This grant should account for the bulk of the cost to give our citizens a community pool they can be proud of. You can see a video of the current conditions of the community pool and a drawing of the new pool design on our website on the Parks & Rec page.
The City of Mountain Home and Western Elmore County Recreation District recently met and conducted a very open-minded meeting about possible future joint partnerships to provide citizens with recreation facilities. Stay tuned for more information as both entities prepare to announce more specific plans for leveraging this partnership for the benefit of our town.
I also want to congratulate the Mountain Home Library staff. This past year has been tough on everyone, but the library staff found some very creative ways to help our residents get through it. We saw a 40 percent increase in digital eBook and audiobook circulation this year and made changes from offering curbside checkout service, to taking several programs like Storytime Club to social media. These changes proved our library staff are creative thinkers who can adapt to any hardship to serve their patrons safely and effectively. They even managed to make a few improvements in 2020 like installing new carpeting, paint, and LED lighting.
The last group of projects I want to bring to your attention are focused on fostering the strong bonds we have with our Airmen at Mountain Home Air Force Base. We’re so proud of our service members and all they do for our country, and we want them to know just how much the local community here cares about them. Our military liaison Marty Anderson has worked tirelessly to advocate for the base and the men and women stationed there. Marty is a retired Command Chief Master Sergeant who understands the Air Force’s needs, their mission, and the positive impact they have on the State of Idaho. Due in large part to his work with base leadership and our state elected officials, we have seen a lot of progress on important projects that will ensure the base’s long-term viability and the Gunfighters’ ability to support expanded mission sets.
The first of those projects came in the form of a $426,000 grant from the Department of Defense office of Economic Adjustment to the Mountain Home School District. About 32 percent of our district’s students are military dependents, but all of the district’s students will benefit from this grant. The money will be used for district-wide classroom and facility improvements, including new carpet in 43 classrooms, new tile in 11 rooms and new paint in five district schools. Quality of education is a priority issue when it comes to ensuring the long-term welfare and morale of our service members. Research has shown that school environments can either positively or negatively impact children’s motivation to learn and desire to attend class. I’m excited to say our youth will see these new improvements when they return to school after summer break this year.
Next is the Mountain Home Air Force Base Water project. Both the State Senate and House recently voted to approve funding for a pipeline from the Snake River to provide the base with a long-term water source. In turn, the Air Force will fund and build a water treatment plant. We all know what a valuable commodity water can be here in Idaho, and this project helps to assure Air Force leadership at the highest levels that Mountain Home Air Force Base will have a stable, long-term source of water to continue its mission here in our great state.
Also approved by the State Senate and waiting for a vote by House Representatives is a License Reciprocity Bill. This bill will ensure that professional licenses held by Airmen and their family members in other states will be recognized by the State of Idaho without additional requirements. Its important that our service members and their families have the best opportunity to succeed as soon as they arrive in our community and this bill will help make sure that they do.
In combination, everything we are doing – working to attract new businesses, new jobs, and new housing opportunities; improving our infrastructure and safety; promoting fair competition; providing timely, effective public services; and offering clean, healthy public spaces and activities – is designed make sure Mountain Home keeps the title that I’ve always known it deserves – the best city in Idaho.
Now that I’ve recounted our successes and told you about our plans for the future, I want to take a moment to thank those most responsible for those successes. Our department heads and every City employee are the real movers and shakers on this team. They are the ones responsible for planning, building relationships, working through the everyday friction and setbacks, moving projects forward, keeping them on schedule, and ultimately, serving our Citizens through their daily tasks and long-term projects. These are the professionals who make it all happen. Without them, there would be nothing for me to report. So, Thank You to every City employee who works in the public eye and behind the scenes to make Mountain Home the best town in Idaho. And thank you to the citizens who allow me to continue leading such an outstanding team of professionals.
While I’m bragging about our team, I want to take this time to recognize one city employee in particular. Nina Patterson is our city clerk. She retired from working for Elmore County and started her career with the City back in 2004. Over the course of the past 17 years, Nina has been the glue that holds City Hall together. She’s helped to keep three different mayors and 16 city council members on track and has served countless numbers of our citizens in that time. She’s been a leader and mentor to the staff, not just to those of us who work alongside her at City Hall, but to the entire City Team. She’s been a hard-working, loyal, and selfless public servant her entire adult life.
Nina recently decided that she will retire from that life of service this May. Her son, Brady, and his wife are expecting their first child, and Nina wants to take every opportunity to spend more time with her family and bond with her new grandchild. This news was bittersweet for everyone on the team. On one hand, we are all happy and excited for her. She has done so much for Mountain Home and she truly deserves to take off that heavy pack, relax a little, and really enjoy her time with family. On the other hand, we’re losing her years of experience, her steady leadership, and the great sense of humor she brings to every situation.
When Nina announced her decision to our department heads, at first there was complete silence. Then there were congratulations. And then there were tears. One of our most experienced superintendents referred to Nina as her “work mom.” Nina – I want to thank you personally and I hope the entire City will join me in congratulating you and wishing you the best of luck in everything you do from this day forward. You’ve made City Hall one of the best places to work in Mountain Home and I hope you know how much you will be missed by me and everyone who’s had the pleasure of working with you.
Finally, I want to close by assuring the citizens of this town that we will continue to serve you the best that we can every day. I, my Department Heads, and every City employee keep you and your needs at the forefront of every discussion and every decision we make. Your successes and challenges are never an interruption to our day, but rather the very reason for our workday, and I want to thank you again for your support and input, which keep us focused on the task at hand. Thank you, and God bless Mountain Home.