Boise Valley irrigation districts’ have gotten the negative attention of urban and suburban residents lately by claiming the water that keeps the Boise River running in the winter and by a homeowner’s tax dispute over $4.78.
Before these two stories most people hardly knew these governments who tax and can bond existed. Many people pay the tax but don't get any water because developers didn't hook into the historic canal system to water lawns.
Now one urban lawmaker want to make sure the boards of these governmental entities are accountable to their increasingly urban customers. Boise Democratic Rep. David Langhorst plans to introduce legislation that would require that each voter had an equal vote in irrigation district elections.
Since 2006, when the Idaho Legislature rewrote the law, irrigation districts can change the voting procedures so that the number of votes a landowner has is based on the number of acres owned within the district.
That’s right. If you own 1,000 irrigated acres in a district, you have 1,000 votes. If you would have a quarter acre you have a quarter of a vote. But this system only goes into effect after the district first asks its voters to support the new voting system using the old system. Since most urban voters barely know they are a part of an irrigation district this vote would not get a lot of publicity.
I can’t tell you yet how many districts have voted to change their voting for their boards and bond elections to this new system yet but I’m checking.
Langhorst, who voted against House Bill 544 in 2006, want to ensure that irrigation district elections are one man, one vote. That would force the districts to be accountable to its urban residents and their concerns just as much as their farmers.
He pointed to the dispute that came after Nampa-Meridan Irrigation District placed a lien on Meridan howmeowner Brian Bandhauer for $4.78 for tax delinquency. After Heath Druzin’s reports in the Idaho Statesman on Bandhauer and other homeowners who had liens placed on their property, the state’s largest irrigation district decided to waive Bandhauer’s late charges, which came because the tax notice went to the wrong address.
Langhorst is fighting an uphill battle since the Idaho Water User’s Association, which pushed the legislation quietly through the Legislature in 2006, remains one of the most powerful lobby groups.
But at a time when Idaho water users want the Legislature and urban voters to help pay to resolve the huge Snake River Plain Aquifer dispute, opposing one person, one vote might be a problem. The perception that farmers support drying up the Boise River in the winter, support heavy-handed treatment of taxpayers and back more representation on taxation to huge landowners could be a pesky political problem.