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Growing Idaho: Star's population explosion

The estimated population of Star is about 30 times what it was back in 1997.

STAR, Idaho — Idaho is growing. Thousands of people are moving here, and moving from other parts of Idaho, reshaping how our cities, towns, and small farming communities look. Nowhere is that more evident than in Star, Idaho, which straddles the Ada and Canyon county line along Highway 44.

Star was first incorporated back in 1905. At that point, it wasn’t much more than a stop on the railroad tracks. It’s just a bit bigger now. In fact, the growth has been exponential. Going back to 1997, when the town was incorporated for the second time, there were only 500 people living here. Today, more than 15,000 people call Star home, according to the latest population estimate from COMPASS.

Some of those folks came from other parts of Idaho. But Star Mayor Trevor Chadwick says some came from across the country.

“There's a couple families from New York that moved to Star, but still work from home for businesses in New York," he said.

In fact, plenty of people in Star are working virtually, or outside of town. Which is why Mayor Chadwick is very excited about all the business growth coming to town, with a bevy of new stores and restaurants, and a huge multimillion dollar facility that local cabinet maker Greyloch is building at the corner of Highway 16 and Highway 44.

"We've been discovered," Chadwick said, adding that with this incredible growth, "There's a lot of growing pains."

You might think a larger property tax base would allow this growth to pay for itself, especially considering the mayor says Star, all of a sudden, has some of the highest-valued properties in Ada County, on average. There is a problem, though, when you look at how much the city of Star, just one of 12 taxing districts here, is collecting from residents.

"The city of Star on average, is about $106-$110 per person," Chadwick said. "That's very little money that we're charging for property taxes in Star. And 100% of our property taxes go to fund our police."

When asked if that’s going to be enough to make these improvements in infrastructure and keep up with the growth, Chadwick said “it is not.”

The mayor says one of the big reasons for that is a new law passed last year. It was sponsored by Idaho House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who lives in Star. The law limits a local government's ability to increase budgets in response to growth. Moyle says it's worked to provide tax relief. Regardless, Star city leaders have had to get creative since they say, growth has far outpaced their budget. They worked with the Building Contractors Association to start collecting fees from all this new development. Those fees can help build a new police station, but they can't pay a new officer to staff it.

"I mean, everybody wants to limit as much taxes as you can,” says Mayor Chadwick. “But when you're a city, there's essential services that you need to provide and you need to have new construction pay for it, to pay its way. And it's not allowing us to do that."

And then there's the traffic. Chadwick says, "Transportation is a big valley wide issue, but it's huge in Star. If you're here at rush hour timeframes, we have standing traffic out here on Highway 44."

Again, city leaders are trying to find solutions by working with other agencies. Two years ago, the city entered into an agreement with the Idaho Transportation Department to collect and use proportional share payments from this incredible growth, to pay for highway improvements in Star. That includes widening a stretch of Highway 44, set to start next year.

The mayor says they're also trying to ease traffic problems by reducing density.

“The more dense you get, the more stress you put on your road systems, the more stress you put on your schools, the more stress you put on everything," Chadwick said.

That includes the people of this formerly small town, who are feeling the stress from Star's explosive growth, and they let the mayor know about it. But his response is the same as it was to me, "We can't legally stop growth or slow down growth. But we can manage it."

City leaders there in Star and across the Magic and Treasure Valleys are desperately trying to manage growth. But one of the major takeaways the mayor left me with was that Star is still a great community full of great people, regardless of where they're coming from.

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