Campaign Announcement by Mayor Rebecca Casper on August 29, 2017 at the Hilton Garden Inn
Four years ago, I stood on this same patio and announced I was running to become Mayor of Idaho Falls. Thanks to the efforts of many of you here today, we were successful. And for the past four years, I’ve been honored to serve the people of Idaho Falls.
Today, I want to let you know, officially, that I will again be a candidate for election in November!
I want to begin today with a report to you on some of the commitments I made four years ago and then I will outline my ideas about where our city needs to go in the future.
But first, please look at our new signs. You’ll see a new slogan “Better Together.” I will say more about that slogan, but first, let me say that ... Idaho Falls is a unique place.
- We have a bright and engaged citizenry that is willing to share ideas and passion.
- Our City Council works long and hard to understand the issues facing us and to propose often-creative solutions.
- Our city Department Directors bring incredible expertise to the table.
- Our city employees are always impressive in their willingness to go the extra mile.
- We have impressive private sector partners who also believe in what this city has to offer.
- And I should mention that Idaho Falls has great supporters around the state and throughout the region. We are not alone.
Citizens, city councilors, directors, employees, businesses, non-profits, state government--you can easily see that in our system of government, no one person ever has all the best ideas or gets to take all the credit. That is because we get the best results when we all work together, sharing our ideas and making improvements along the way. That is the essence of collaboration and from that comes sound policies and great results. It is what we mean when we say “Better Together.”
There is no question that our city is moving ahead. And key to this is that spirit of collaboration. As a candidate four years ago, I made commitments to you. As I report on those commitments, you will see this theme emerge. Ours is not a city of solo achievements. Everything worthwhile that has happened in our community over the past four years has been the result of people working together. Let’s begin.
In June 2013 on this very patio, I asked if it was time to reconsider whether EITC should become a community college. The applause for that question was memorable. And throughout the campaign that year, I discussed this topic often and so many citizens responded positively. It sent a message.
So after my election, in concert with Rep. Wendy Horman, CSI President Fox, Senator Dean Mortimer, and others, we developed the idea until we were ready to put together a task force to explore whether a community college had merit beyond just our love for education. I invited Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham and Bonneville County Commissioner David Radford to work with me to appoint an all-citizen-study panel to take a serious look at the issue. We chose people from all over the Bonneville County map--both geographically and politically. From that citizen panel, a campaign was launched.
And this past May, 71% of our county’s residents voted to turn EITC into the College of Eastern Idaho. I might also add that 74% of city voters supported CEI. The College is now open for business as a full-fledged community college. Exploring a community college was a promise I made and a promise I kept. But, we succeeded far beyond that because--and only because--of all of those who were involved and deeply committed.
Four years ago, the City was embroiled in a lawsuit over the North Loop expansion of our power grid. I called for a Plan “B” in the event the lawsuit was settled. We are now onto exploring those Plan B alternatives. The plans are evolving as technology evolves. It’s another promise I made and a promise I kept. And please note that this is one where city leadership, Idaho Falls Power, and the affected residents have all worked together--and we are not done yet. We must remain engaged on this. The demand for power and aging grid infrastructure will certainly require more of our attention in the future.
Four years ago I stated that economic development would be central to my role as Mayor. Since then, I worked to help form a regional economic development organization, now known as REDI for Idaho, which is geared to attract companies to our area based on our regional strengths--our resources, our workforce, our community expertise. Also, I now have an in-house economic development coordinator on staff. And, I have worked aggressively to bring the Small Modular Reactor project to our region. Economic Development as a high priority--a promise made and kept. But please note this effort has involved leaders in our business community, our City Council, other mayors in the region, State officials, and the Chamber of Commerce as well as other local leaders.
Four years ago, I committed to have our City departments scrutinized by citizen review panels that would look at them from top to bottom. Many citizens were appointed to those panels--some of you here today--and many, many of their great ideas and suggestions actually have been implemented. Not surprisingly, these citizen panels often set higher goals for city achievement than the department directors themselves. I am guessing that not being burdened by day-to-day budgets, personnel, and political constraints allowed these citizens to reach for the stars--in service to their community. It is another promise made and kept. But again, note that the key was the fact that so many citizen volunteers were willing to step up to serve on these committees.
Four years ago I stated: “ We must do all we can to capitalize on the strengths of the Idaho National Laboratory and make certain that its mission is secure and strong for decades to come. ” --- Since then, I have served on the LINE Commission to craft Idaho’s nuclear future and pushed aggressively for the small modular reactor. --- The Navy just started construction on the new $1.65 billion dollar Naval facility. --- INL has the important cybersecurity program over on University Place and much, much more to come as two new buildings are constructed to facilitate that mission and others.
For the past four years, we have hosted the Intermountain Energy Summit where key policy issues in the energy arena have been discussed, debated, and challenged. I can also report that key players in the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense--in Idaho and in DC--know that the City of Idaho Falls supports every aspect of our DOE and DOD missions and that we strive to be full partners. This is a promise I made and a promise I believe I’ve kept. But again, note that many others--from the Governor, to the workers at IWTU and AMWTP, to INL and Fluor leadership, to the bus drivers of the energy efficient busses that go to the various sites everyday--all have played a part in this success.
Finally, four years ago I supported full development of our cultural and recreational attractions for tourism and enhancement of our city entrances. I backed extending the Greenbelt and other paths across our community. And I was an advocate of our historic downtown.
The improvements in this area are almost too numerous to list. Our Greenbelt extends to Sunnyside and the most worn areas have been expanded and refreshed. --- We have a fantastic and expanded farmers market. --- Heritage Park on the Snake River near Sunnyside was just funded in the coming fiscal year’s budget by the City Council. We will see phase one roll out in the Spring. --- The city entrance at Broadway has new landscaping and incredibly welcoming Idaho Falls signage. --- We are beginning to put a network of paths together connecting the community--some utilizing existing canal pathways. --- Our zoo is better and busier than ever. --- Our Downtown is more vibrant with new restaurants, shops, businesses and, most importantly, with more people and places for people to live Downtown.
Thanks to the new Wayfinding signs, visitors can find our attractions, spend a bit more time and a bit more money in Idaho Falls. We know they paid off this past summer with all of the activities that brought the region and the world to our city.
… A whole host of promises have been made and kept and there is more to come in these areas. The City Council, our city directors, some excellent consultants, city employees, generous citizens and corporations, some visionary canal companies, and civic clubs like Rotary and Civitans, along with many, many volunteers have been key in all of these areas.
Friends ... we ARE are Better Together! And we can do even more in the future. So for the rest of today, let’s focus on the future and three leadership areas going forward.
First, I want Renew Our Community . New developments like Snake River Landing are always exciting and very healthy for local economies. SRL is at its heart a community renewal project--many of you may recall the old Monroc gravel pit down there. Of course I support and appreciate this kind of entirely fresh re-development and renewal. But, we also need to renew other areas of town--project by project--in ways that may not be as sweeping and dramatic, but which require every bit as much vision and planning. Here are some of the opportunities we have for this.
This November, District 91 is going to place on the ballot a proposal to build a new Idaho Falls High School on 49th South and to rebuild and refresh Skyline High School. Because of the growth we’ve had, they can do it without raising the tax levy one bit. If that measure passes--and it should--we will be having a significant conversation about what happens to the old Idaho Falls High School.
Recently, by leveraging a significant donation from William Maeke which was secured by dedicated citizens on a city committee, the city is moving to revamp our Civic Auditorium. But, what will happen to the rest of the school and nearby areas? We have already been looking at this for a while and have begun thinking strategically with city planners, school officials, arts community members, and our economic development team. We held a visioning meeting in the Council chambers last Spring. But it will take lots more citizen involvement and support to truly revitalize the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
In Downtown Idaho Falls we are seeing some dramatic renewal activity. Across the river, where the Savings Center once was, we we soon will see a new and striking space with restaurants, a public plaza, professional office space and more. And the old Bonneville Hotel over on Constitution also is moving toward a complete renovation--bringing more much-needed residential space to downtown. The key to downtown vitality is always the people. When people live there, you don’t have a downtown that empties out at night. We want more committed downtown residents.
All of these renewal projects will happen through collaboration between the City, private developers, the school district, citizens, and other partners. These community renewal projects are very important and deserve priority and the full attention of city leaders.
Second, we need to Grow a Competitive Economy . One of the most significant lessons I have learned in these past four years is that the biggest constraint existing employers have is finding and retaining employees with the right skills. Some employers need technical skills and some need PhDs--the whole range of the education spectrum. We must work to build a strong kindergarten-through-career education system, for that is what will help local workers and businesses get ahead.
Our new College of Eastern Idaho is part of that talent toolbox but District 91 has a key role to play as well. They know it, but they need our support to get there. By leveraging our schools to train our people, we can attract high tech industries with strong wages.
Of course, we can do even more to attract the best. For example, expanding our fiber optics network to more businesses and homes also will foster the kind of growth we need. And many say that maintaining the high quality of life we have in our community provides just the right kind of “curb appeal” to bring in highly motivated professions and professionals who appreciate the Eastern Idaho outdoors and the way we know how to recreate in all four seasons.
By growing our economy in competitive, intelligent and innovative ways, we can improve local incomes and secure future prosperity. It really can be that simple.
Third, we have tremendous opportunities to Enhance Our Energy Portfolio . I am a huge advocate of the Small Modular Reactor project that has been proposed for Eastern Idaho. SMRs are small nuclear reactors that can be built elsewhere and shipped to the power generation site where they can be used singly or in groups of up to 12 per site.
Around here, we already know that nuclear power provides carbon free electricity for powering homes, cars, and just about everything associated with a modern lifestyle. SMRs are intrinsically safe by design, and the leader in this industry is Nuscale--which is owned by Fluor. They have already begun the lengthy approval process to site the world’s first SMR on INL property--the same place that has been the birthplace of nearly every other nuclear innovation in the world. It very fitting to be there.
Idaho Falls Power is a key player in the SMR project. But even without the SMR project, Idaho Falls Power is a key community asset. If you haven’t lived anywhere else for a while, you may not realize that electricity in Idaho Falls is very inexpensive--we have among the lowest per kilowatt rates not just in our state, but in the nation! That certainly gives us a huge advantage in attracting new businesses.
But, many don’t know that Idaho Falls Power’s portfolio is not just economical, it is also significantly clean and green. At present, we are over 90% green with power we currently get from hydro, wind and nuclear. SMRs will only improve that percentage. 90+ is a percentage most cities only aspire to. These numbers give us market place advantages and make us leaders in sustainability. I am absolutely committed to maintaining and enhancing our city’s Energy portfolio.
Idaho Falls is a great place. I believe this is because of the remarkable efforts of so many in the past 150 years. And over the last 4 years--we have seen that same community spirit hard at work. We are better than we were four years ago. And by working together on worthwhile goals like community renewal, growing a competitive economy, and protecting our energy assets, we can continue the trend indefinitely. We truly are better together. I ask for your support now and at the ballot box in November.
Thank you for being here today.