Kootenai County is witnessing unprecedented growth, raising the concerns of longtime residents about the changes that have come along with this growth. In the two years from 2020 to 2022, Kootenai County’s population grew by 7%. It is now over 32% more populous than in 2010. By population, Kootenai County is the third largest county in Idaho, with nearly 180,000 residents. 

With that growth have come many changes, particularly to the communities along the Interstate 90 corridor. For example, the town of Post Falls has grown at a rate of over 9% per year since 2020. 

While some residents have welcomed the growth, others have not, and the current rapid growth has created tension between longtime residents and newcomers. Problems have arisen in the form of more traffic, increased waiting times for municipal, utility, and other support services, crowded schools and hospitals, and the like. In addition, longtime residents are concerned about the influx of Idaho non-natives who may have brought with them attitudes and viewpoints that are out of sync with the values that people have long held in this area – values that made this area so appealing and unique. 

Given the situation, the two most critical issues to voters are urban growth and election integrity. 

Urban Growth: Balancing Interests

As a native of the area, I share many of the same concerns that other longtime residents have about the rapid increase in population. Still, I recognize that adapting to the new reality is necessary. We have to take control of the situation and move forward in the best way possible so that all residents – old and new – can reap the benefits of growth while working to curb or eliminate its downsides. 

Some people may balk at my use of the phrase “new reality” by thinking this is “throwing in the towel” to unchecked growth. That is not the case. If we dig our heels in and oppose growth, the results can be as damaging to the region’s character as growing too fast. 

Already, this area has seen staggering increases in home values. Over the last decade, home prices in Idaho have outpaced the rest of the country by increasing 75%. The median house price in Coeur d’Alene last year was $515,000. Whether we like it or not, people want to move here, and prices go up when land and houses are in demand.

If we don’t accommodate more housing, many people who grew up in the area will be unable to afford to buy a home here. Even longtime residents may be forced out of their homes as property tax increases become too burdensome or if the lure of financial gain prompts them to sell their homes at a profit so that they can retire and move elsewhere. Failure to address housing affordability will also lead to greater disparities between those who have and those who have not. That is not what I want for Kootenai County. I want this to be a community where average working families can continue to enjoy a high quality of life.

We should be thankful that our region is growing; this growth has contributed to the economic stability of Kootenai County. Unemployment is low, and the increase in the need for goods and services has brought new economic opportunities to residents. In the scheme of things, it is much better to have our county’s problems than the problems besetting other regions of the country that are facing population declines and economic downturns. But how do we ensure we minimize the problems that come with growth?

It is crucial to address valid concerns about rapid expansion. Specifically, that means addressing roads, hospitals, municipal services like fire and police, open space, utilities, and schools. We cannot expand first and try to play “catch up” while people experience poor services and traffic congestion. 

As the Kootenai County tax base broadens, we must use these financial resources to enhance public services and amenities. With 1310 square miles of land, there is room for growth, but failure to adequately accommodate this growth could exacerbate the problems we are already seeing. The solution lies in measured growth. Before approving any expansion, we must pay careful attention to ensuring that infrastructure needs are met. This involves upgrading existing roads and utilities and rethinking land use planning to accommodate the way people live today in a world connected by technology. 

As a county commissioner, I advocate for applying some brakes to unchecked expansion in certain areas while maintaining a rational approach to the need for more housing. The goal is not to halt growth but to be thoughtful and strategic in bringing about development with ample attention to ensuring that additional growth does not come at the expense of the quality of life people have moved here to experience.

In conjunction with this, we should revisit the previous county bond proposal for $50 million for open space that voters rejected in November. While some may believe this rejection means that voters are happy with the loss of open space, I think there are other reasons for the outcome. First, most voters – 53% – favored the bond, but it required a two-thirds majority (66.7%) to pass. Second, the bond measure was not well publicized before the election, and conservative voters tend to be wary of voting for measures they are unfamiliar with, particularly measures that might increase their property taxes. Third, I believe the measure, as stated, was not sufficiently specific as to how Kootenai County would spend the money to benefit its residents; it left many questions unanswered. If the County Commissioners believe open space is critical, we must work to educate and inform our voters and give them assurances that we will spend the bond funds responsibly.

Election Integrity: Transparency and Accountability

One of the most important duties of the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners is to oversee the electoral systems in the county, including establishing voting precincts and conducting elections. This is a grave responsibility but not a complicated one; we already know how to ensure our voting system is secure and accurate. 

As our county becomes more populous, we may need to make adjustments in precincts and recruitment of volunteers. But Kootenai County is not so crowded that maintaining the integrity of our voting systems and outcomes should be challenging. The basic steps are straightforward: 

  • Follow Idaho laws that define who is eligible to vote.  
  • Maintain a system of clean voting rolls, purging individuals who have moved out of the area or passed away.
  • Confirm that voters are registered in only one polling location. 
  • Require valid ID for a voter to obtain a ballot.
  • Use paper ballots.
  • Voting should be in person on one designated day. 
  • Absentee voting should only be allowed for specific reasons, and the procedures should be clear and stringent regarding matters such as eligibility, when ballots must be mailed or received, and requiring a validated signature on the cover envelope.
  • Vote counting should be monitored.
  • Vote counts should be completed on election day and follow strict procedures for reporting. 
  • Post-election audits should be conducted regularly.

Voting is a right, but citizens who want to exercise that right must make the effort to do so. There is no need to change these basic requirements on the theory that voting should somehow be “easier.” It is already easy. Citizens must be willing to make minor efforts to exercise their valuable rights; it is not necessary to “dumb down” the responsibilities of citizenship. 

While Idaho has a sound election system currently in place, we must remain vigilant. A system that works well should not be “fixed” to introduce “efficiency measures,” particularly if those measures would make the system vulnerable to mismanagement, errors, fraud, and abuse. If elected County Commissioner, I will prioritize maintaining our current system and, where appropriate, improve our ability to protect election integrity.

Please vote for John Padula for County Commissioner on May 21, 2024.