Avimor is growing, far from other SW Idaho cities. Who pays for emergency services – and how will it change?

Avimor is growing, far from other SW Idaho cities. Who pays for emergency services – and how will it change?

A new planned community is taking shape in the shadow of the foothills off of Highway 55, far from the city centers of Eagle, Boise, and Meridian.

It might be small now, but at full build-out Avimor expects to include roughly 10,000 homes spread across 23,000 acres in Ada, Boise and Gem counties. The project, which includes retail, a community center, and access to 25 square miles of trails and open space, is a major anchor point drawing the Treasure Valley’s growth north from the City of Eagle toward Boise County.

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The sudden growth of residents far from the urban core leaves local governments with the question of how to get fire, EMS and police services to Avimor as demand grows. Avimor is currently in talks with the three counties, the City of Eagle and the Eagle Fire District to come up with a plan to serve its residents. At the same time, local officials are trying to ensure existing taxpayers aren’t subsidizing the small minority of SW Idaho residents settling in Avimor.

A long road to rooftops

Avimor has a long history in Ada County.

Ada County approved the development in the early 2000s, against the wishes of the City of Boise which filed suit. It argued the project would burden the city’s services. Avimor triumphed in court and construction moved ahead. As of now, Avimor has constructed 591 of the 823 homes Ada County permitted it for more a decade ago.

Since then, the project became a political lightning rod across the county. As political winds changed in multiple jurisdictions, localities went back and forth on how to handle the development and whether it will add tax burden – or if the developer’s assurances of the growth paying for itself will come to pass.

Avimor general manager Dan Richter says multiple economic studies on the project’s financial impact on local government are underway. He said the development is built with environmentally efficient homes to use less water and power, has fewer children burdening the schools than elsewhere in the valley and he has a range of “out of the box” ideas to keep the project from costing taxpayers extra.

“Most of the people criticizing (Avimor) are the same folks that think growth should go up rather than out,” Richter said. “A lot of people listened to that awhile ago and now there’s urban flight and nobody wants to go up and into the dense part of the cities.”

A row of completed homes in Avimor. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Ada County supported of Avimor and other developments like it at the time of approval, but recently ousted Democratic commissioner Diana Lachiondo was more critical of developments like Avimor sprawling further out. Former Eagle Mayor Stan Ridgeway also hoped to stop the annexation of the development into Eagle in 2019. Both candidates lost their reelection campaigns in November, turning power over to leaders more in line with Avimor’s goals.

Eagle Mayor Jason Pierce said the city has left the foothills, including Avimor, in the city’s area of impact and is waiting for an application for an annexation from the developer. He said the city has not made up its mind on whether or not it would annex the development into the city, which means Eagle would be in charge of providing its services. He said it’s rare for the city to say no to an annexation, but they are still exploring the question.

“I wanted them to bring (plans for services) to us at 80% of how they’re going to make it work and we can figure out the other part, so it’s not just about trusting the developer,” Pierce said. “We’ll decide if we need to adjust it more or do different things. You never want to put a development on the backs of the people who already live here.”

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If you call 911 in Avimor, what happens?

Planning is ongoing for how to service Avimor, but that doesn’t mean residents are going without fire, EMS or police.

Avimor has only constructed homes on the Ada County side of the line so far. All residents are served by Ada County Paramedics, Ada County Sheriff’s Office deputies, and the Eagle Fire District driving up Highway 55 from their main operations near Boise. The calls are getting answered, but response times are much slower than the rest of the county because of the distance.

Ada County Paramedics’ closest station is at St. Luke’s Eagle at the corner of State Street and Old Horseshoe Bend Road. If an ambulance is at the station, it can get to Avimor between 12 and 15 minutes. Ada County’s Chief Paramedic Shawn Rayne said this is minutes longer than a response to a home within city limits.

“It’s not ideal, because the resources aren’t as close as they would be if the call was in Eagle or in Garden City where that ambulance or another could get to them in 8 minutes or less,” he said.

But for now, the agency has so few calls coming in it is manageable with the resources it has. Ada County Paramedics only answered 21 calls for service in the development last year. Rayne estimates it will take roughly 10 years before Avimor has enough homes to generate the call volume needed to build a paramedic station in the development.

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Richter said Avimor is full of retired law enforcement officers and firefighters looking for volunteer opportunities and he plans to start a community watch for them to patrol the development. They will have basic medical training, hopefully provided by Ada County Paramedics, and will also respond to some calls police are often dispatched to.

“Typically the first two or three minutes in a heart attack is vital and hardly anyone lives close enough to an ambulance to get a response in three minutes,” Richter said. “With our on-site people, we think we can get there on our own.”

What about outside of Ada?

It’s a thornier issue for the parts of Avimor in Gem and Boise counties. The closest ambulance on the Boise County side is in Horseshoe Bend, which is a volunteer only service with less training than the full time professionals in Ada County. And on the Gem side, the closest ambulance is stationed in the City of Emmett.

Boise County Commissioner Ryan Stirm said his county won’t approve development in Avimor until it has a plan for EMS services.

“We don’t just allow growth to run rampant,” Stirm said. “There has to be a checks and balances system right to make sure that growth is in an intelligent manner so we’re protecting the citizens who are going to be living there.”

Avimor Idaho
A row of homes overlooking a pond in Avimor. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Rayne said one of those possibilities Avimor is hoping for is an agreement that Ada County Paramedics would serve the whole development, but he said it’s important to consider the taxpayers.

“I believe the developer would like some kind of agreement to have Ada County come across the line, but that’s obviously a ways down the road before we would make a decision on whether that would occur or not,” Rayne said. “We have to make sure there’s no way we would end up having Ada County residents subsidizing the response into those other areas.”

Richter said he thinks serving the entirety of Avimor will be an “economic boon” to Ada County Paramedics. But, if they do decide not to sign on, Avimor will hire a private ambulance company to serve the sections of the development in Boise and Gem counties.

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Ada mulling agreement with Avimor

On February 9, Rayne met with the Ada County Commissioners to discuss a proposal from Avimor to have the developer pay a $75 annual membership fee per household to Ada County to help cover the cost of EMS services. Under the agreement, members will have Ada County Paramedics bill their insurance for the cost of care and the rest will be written off. This is common practice in Ada County elsewhere already. If enacted, this agreement would satisfy Boise County’s requirement for an EMS plan.

In the plan, Avimor proposes to pay the membership fees of its residents for 10 years. After that, the builders estimate Avimor will have grown enough for Eagle Fire and Ada County Paramedics to locate a station in the area.

Membership fees from Avimor’s current 600 homes would bring in $45,000 annually, Rayne said. To fully staff a new EMS station 24/7 with five paramedics and four EMTs, it would cost the county over half a million per year.

Right now, there is no mechanism for Boise County to help pay Ada County to cover the EMS calls on their side of the county line because there is no ambulance taxing district in the area. And the county can’t form a taxing district until there’s something built to tax, which Rayne called a “chicken and the egg problem.”

Democratic Ada County Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said she would like to see an analysis from Rayne on how much it would cost taxpayers in her county to go along with the agreement to serve the whole development. Newly elected Republican Commissioner Rod Beck, who had support from Avimor during his campaign, said he would also like to see the analysis, along with some other information.

“I’d also like a full cost and analysis of the cost of service for the coroner’s office to see how much the Ada County taxpayers are subsidizing the 32 counties and two Indian tribes (who use the services),” Beck said.

“I’m not sure that’s on the agenda,” an off camera Ada County staffer said.

“It’s not, but I’m asking,” Beck said.

“I’m not sure our office would be involved in that,” the staffer said.

“It seems like a similar kind of a question, is all,” Beck replied.

Fire protection for homes in Avimor

Avimor is working on laying the groundwork to pay for fire service for its residents.

Eagle Fire District Chief Tyler Lewis said Avimor has been proactive in planning with the development to plan for the future of the project’s growth. His organization was originally opposed to the project because of its distance from the city center and the challenges that come with it, but he said after the developer and the district reached an agreement they were in support.

The fire district annexed the entire area encompassing Avimor in 2007 and since then Lewis said his department advised the developers on how to build the planned community with wildfire resistant landscaping and other features. He also noted Avimor was the first development in Eagle to start paying impact fees to the fire district in order to fund a station, and the development set aside land in the area to be used as a fire station down the road.

“…Avimor has been a really good partner,” Lewis said. “Everything we’ve asked they’ve always done.”

Like Ada County Paramedics, Eagle Fire District has had a very low number of calls per year out to Avimor so far. In 2019 the department had 20 calls in the development and only 21 in 2020. But, that number is expected to grow as more rooftops continue to go up.

To handle the growth in calls, Eagle Fire District and Avimor came to an agreement years ago requiring a fire station to be constructed in the development when 2,500 homes are built or Eagle Fire District starts logging 200 calls per year from the community. There is land in the development set aside for a fire station and Lewis said it would be paid for with the impact fees from Avimor’s construction. The operating costs would be covered by the growth in ongoing tax collections from the development to the district.

For now though, home buyers in Avimor have to acknowledge when they buy their home they are located in an area with longer response times from Eagle Fire District. The district’s response times to Avimor run roughly 8 to 9 minutes, which is higher than the response time to the rest of Eagle.

“We’ve asked Avimor to make sure that’s a known deal when they come in and buy houses,” Lewis said. “That’s making sure they have informed buyers.”

What about police patrols?

Just like any other unincorporated area of Ada County, Avimor is patrolled by Ada County Sheriff’s deputies.

There are no dedicated deputies for Avimor, so when there is a call for service in the development the nearest deputy in the northern half of the county drives up Highway 55 to the call. The average response time to that whole section of Ada County was over 8 minutes in 2020, higher than the average time of two minutes and thirty five seconds for the City of Eagle.

Avimor by itself had a response time for emergencies of 6:17 in 2020, an improvement from 8:16 in 2019. The sheriff’s office responded to 163 calls for service from Avimor in 2020 and 105 in 2019.

Ada County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Patrick Orr said it’s impossible to predict how much more growth in Avimor will strain the sheriff’s office, but he expects it will increase demand.

“The more development we have and the more sprawled out it gets in unincorporated Ada County, the more stress it puts on our patrol deputies at our current staffing level,” he wrote in an email. “It’s kind of an existential math problem, because we don’t know how many calls for service we will get each day.”

Avimor Idaho
The entrance of Avimor off of Highway 55. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

The sheriff’s office does collect some impact fees from Avimor to help cover policing services, but it’s not enough to cover all of the costs. The Sheriff’s office collected $100,411 in fees from the Avimor area, which includes Dry Creek and Cartwright Ranch, in 2020. 

In comparison, it costs $121,000 per year in salary and benefits for one patrol deputy, Orr said. This figure excludes equipment costs.

The Eagle Police Department currently contracts with the Ada County Sheriff’s office and works closely with the county to cover calls. But, if Avimor is annexed into the city of Eagle, Eagle would be responsible for determining how many deputies will patrol the area and how the area will be covered.

Pierce, Eagle’s mayor, said he hopes to explore the issue of how policing would work in Eagle during a series of open houses on annexation planned for sometime in the coming year.

“Is there something we work out with Avimor where they pay more for the first five years so the city can get more officers up there?” he said. “There’s all kinds of things that will come out of these meetings to see if it’s something that can work.”

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