The current furor around personalities, campaign aspirations, developer’s self-interest and the desire to create news begs the question, “What About Pocatello?” Pocatello is composed of roughly 56,637 people who have a variety of needs and dreams. Where do those people fit in amongst all the posturing, name-calling, labeling and gossip? The pressing needs of our people, our families and our businesses are lost in the distractions.
How is truth served among all the accusations, misinformation and blaming? We should consider how all Pocatellans are served by city actions, instead of by all the pontificating. How does it help our community to spread personal characterizations of events others have not witnessed? How does it serve our people to listen to gossip and spread it as truth? There is no person on the City Council whose personal integrity warrants having their character assailed. I am confident all of us live our lives lawfully and as good citizens.
In an article in Forbes titled “Productive Conflict is not an Oxymoron,” Rodger Dean Duncan interviews the writers of a book titled “The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book,” by Cornelia Gamlem and Barbara Mitchell. The authors lay out how conflict is a valuable asset for developing solutions. They stress using the tools of active listening and open conversation. The article asserts “conflict — when it’s handled appropriately — can lead to breakthrough solutions.”
A study produced by a University in Utah pointed out how abnormally conflict-avoidant this geographic area is. We must admit this fact. I am a person who continually has to review my writing because of this imprint. I tend to write too passively. We do not want to recognize and credit conflict as a valuable tool for management and growth.
Different segments of our community embrace different realities. These different realities inform their values. Some see only the shiny upside of Pocatello from where they are perched. In contrast, others also acknowledge the dark economic struggles which hamstring a significant portion of our people in this town we all share and call home. Pocatello has upsides and downsides requiring attention so we can live together in a healthy environment.
What are our upsides? What are our downsides? We must harness these realities if we are to move our city forward. Analogies of teamwork abound. The most fitting is the analogy of a team of horses pulling together to deliver their load to a determined destination.
Suppose you pay regular attention to Pocatello’s City Council meetings. In that case, you will discover that the vast majority of the time, decisions are made unanimously. At other times, we arrive at majority decisions through compromise and productive dialogue.
Decision-making based on the different realities mentioned earlier is where the rub comes. How much people will be taxed and how those funds will be used is where stark differences arise. Some of us are uncomfortable with the tax burden that hits all of us — but particularly hits our lower-income and poor. Others are focused on what taxes appear to deliver in our community selectively. Some want taxes and spending to be more vigorously considered, while challenges to the status quo threaten others.
Let’s begin with the reality of our people. Some have vast financial resources, and others have ample financial resources. Ten thousand four hundred seventy-eight of our fellow Pocatellans live in poverty. Additionally, 15,009 live economically constrained lives even though they have jobs. We have 25,487 of our neighbors who struggle to survive! These realities do not go away by ignoring them.
We have experienced an unprecedented climb in home values in the last few years, and more increases are coming. Rising home values and taxes have disproportionately impacted our struggling people who rent. When the house they rent used to be valued at $100,000, they paid an aggregate pass-through tax of $2,150.78. A few years later, the new valuation on the home is $200,000, and they pay an aggregate pass-through tax of $3,096.76. A tax increase of $945.98 or 43.98 percent despite the levy rate falling by 28 percent!
They are not alone. Despite the increase in the homeowner’s exemption, most homeowners are paying hundreds if not thousands of tax dollars more for the house they have lived in for years. If growth is paying for growth, why are property taxes on long-held homes rising so blatantly?
Local businesses that depend on people spending disposable income have a significantly reduced pool of customers and a lower survival rate when people are income-constrained.
Incidentally, a main point of contention, the list of essential projects city staff was asked to assemble, includes 65 taxpayer-funded projects. It also lists another eight projects to be funded through fees collected by the sanitation, water and sewer departments. They estimate the cost for all projects to be $16,377,782.
Yes, there may be trouble at the City Council level. But it is good trouble for people struggling financially and those who resent their significant tax burden. It is good news for those who expect their city to do more for less. It is good news for employees who want their future financial stability considered. Why is the good trouble of representing all voices being cast as bad news?
Roger Bray is a member of the Pocatello City Council.