February 27, 2012
State of the City
Annual report from the Mayor of Idaho Falls
By Jared Fuhriman
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Among the highlights of serving as mayor of this great city is the opportunity to sit down to lunch with the youth occasionally. Talking with the younger generation offers a unique perspective. They don’t sugarcoat things, yet the staple of these conversations has long been optimism.
Occasionally, though, I’m amazed from these talks as the students’ hopes and dreams take a backseat to concerns about their family’s economic well-being. We’ve all heard stories of the misery inflicted by the economic slump that’s gripped the nation for the last three and a half years. Millions of our fellow Americans have lost their careers, their homes and, in some cases, their hope. The social safety net set up to help in times like these has been frayed from the surge in need.
The downturn certainly has not spared Idaho Falls, but we have plenty to be thankful for, and look forward to, as we ring in the new year. First and foremost, I am pleased to report that, once again, the City of Idaho Falls is financially sound! Yes, we have had to be very frugal and make tough decisions, but our “pay as we go” philosophy has allowed us to continue to provide the services and amenities this community expects and deserves.
We’re fortunate to be recognized as the hub of eastern Idaho, with Idaho National Laboratory, two fine hospitals and a thriving arts scene. Our historic downtown, the Greenbelt, museums and an abundance of locally owned restaurants and retail shops serve as magnets for tourists and visitors from across the region.
In fact, hotel stays held steady in 2011, despite a drop in visitation at Yellowstone National Park.?Construction leveled off after a big increase in 2010, but the outlook was buoyed by the continued development of INL’s in-town campus – a reminder of how critical a role the nation’s premier nuclear and energy research laboratory plays in the local economy. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center is a cog as well. One of just two Level II trauma hospitals in the state, EIRMC recently completed a $20 million renovation of its Women and Infants Center, along with the addition of a neonatal intensive care unit. Melaleuca, one of our homegrown businesses, met a milestone in 2011 with $1 billion in sales for the year – a remarkable feat and yet another indicator that the economy is on the rebound.
Though every City department finished the year under budget, we tackled a number of projects in 2011. With the help of Fish and Game and several generous sponsors who has stepped up to stock fish in the new Ryder Park pond where countless children and community members, both old and young will be able to enjoy this great sport no matter the their age or ability.
This past year, four soccer fields were added at the soccer complex on Old Butte Road, including two with lights for night play. Significant renovation took place at the Joe Marmo/Wayne Lehto Ice Arena along with renovating the parking lot at the Wes Deist Aquatic Center.
This past year, we also moved forward with the North Loop transmission project, which will upgrade the city’s electrical infrastructure and ensure Idaho Falls Power’s ability to reliably provide safe power as the City grows. ?We received great news last May when voters approved the formation of the Idaho Falls Auditorium District – a significant step toward the construction of an events center. Though construction likely won’t begin in 2012, this development is seen as an economic boon for the city and its businesses, particularly the hotels, shops and restaurants downtown.
The auditorium district is the latest bit of good news for downtown, which has seen a flurry of activity with the addition of Idahoan Foods, Syringa Wireless, and the expansion of several other locally owned eateries and businesses along with plans to renovate the old Rio Theater into an interactive children’s art center.
We were also very happy to hear that work recently commenced on the Marriott hotel on Broadway, and plans for the Memorial Drive Master Plan and Realignment Project to kick off in July. With the help of the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency, Downtown Development Corporation and Bonneville County, the city laid the groundwork for the project with the addition of two parking lots to replace the parking that will be lost when Memorial Drive is reconfigured and the Greenbelt expanded. This long-awaited project is yet another example of the good that can be accomplished when we work together.
Collaboration is a powerful tool, and it’s been a focus for me as mayor. Working with both School Districts has helped the local youth attend college through the Mayor’s Scholarship Fund. In its sixth year, more than 144 sponsors have contributed more than $315,000, allowing us to award 139 scholarships to students in grades 8 through 12. Collaboration with Grow Idaho Falls, the Chamber of Commerce and the state Department of Labor has also borne fruit through the annual Mayor’s Business Day event, which is in its third year and has proven to be an excellent way to pair up those looking for work with local companies in need of qualified workers.
Looking forward in 2012, We will be launching three significant projects to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant and reconstruction work on the D Street underpass and the Pancheri Bridge over Interstate 15.?To sum it up, you can expect to see a flurry of activity across this great city in the coming months and throughout 2012.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the role that the City Council has played in these developments. The “pay as we go” fiscal policies the council has adhered to have left Idaho Falls on firm financial footing. The councilmembers’ commitment to this great city is astounding as is the devotion of the City’s Division Directors and all city employees.
The citizens of this community deserve a pat on the back as well. I’ve never seen such an outpouring of support for those in need. Coat drives, canned food drives, anti-bullying campaigns – you name it, the caring folks of this wonderful community never cease to amaze with their consistent acts of kindness. And perhaps the best part of it is the number of charity events spearheaded by the youth in our community. That’s another thing that has struck me while working with the youth, they don’t hesitate to take action when they see a need. Even those worried about their family’s economic uncertainty are quick to help others. This unselfish attitude – the personification of what I refer to as the Spirit of Idaho Falls – inspires and convinces me that we will emerge from this recession stronger than ever.
© 2013 Idaho Falls® Magazine