Cells in the body need to exhibit partnership in order for the body to exist and thrive. A parallel could be drawn between this example and a city in Idaho that has garnered attention for similar reasons. Sitting 22 miles west of Boise is Nampa, Idaho. Since 2017, WalletHub.com has deemed Nampa the “Best Run City in America.” The WalletHub scoring system is centered on many subcategories within the criteria of recreational friendliness, financial stability, education, health, safety, economy, infrastructure and pollution. But, a number is just a number. The question is, how is such a high score achieved?
“This award takes all citizens to have accomplished it,” said Mayor Debbie Kling. “Teamwork is key, and so is communication. It is a true honor for Nampa to be recognized, especially because we work together diligently to serve and make the community better.”
Kling has been in office since 2018, and her words echo the atmosphere found within the city.
“Our town priorities are simple,” she stated. “Safety, infrastructure and economic options.” Upon exploration, these priorities can be traced as far back as the 1800s.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad built tracks from Wyoming to Oregon in the 1880s. On that line, a train depot was built, and eventually, it became the railroad town of Nampa. From the very first, a pattern of paying attention to the delicate relationship between progress and citizen safety was enacted. At a time when many towns in the early days of the states were being platted north to south, town founder Alexander Duffe platted Nampa perpendicular to the railroad tracks to ensure traveler safety. It seems the literal foundation of the town was laid upon cultivating an attitude of bending according to purpose and safety while streamlining efficiency.
Today, Nampa still follows Duffe’s original example of “Form follows Function” and has continued to evolve the message. Those employed and elected by the town have a mindset of continuously striving for upward growth, a sentiment with which Kling agrees wholeheartedly.
“It’s always ‘Are we moving toward a safe and prosperous position?’” She went on to list the town’s core values as integrity, teamwork and stewardship.
“You know, as a city, we have to spend,” she said, “but we always strive to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars by finding better ways to do something.”
Amy Bowman, director of communications, mentioned one such thing from the street department. Under the watch of Don Barr, superintendent of the street department, Nampa was able to implement a proactive approach to snow and ice on roadways. The city pre-sprays streets with salt brine before winter storms, which brings street usage back to normal faster. It also uses less salt. Even more progressive is the department’s decision to manufacture the salt brine itself. Overall, the program saves the city $68,887 per winter and paid for itself within the first year.
Kling explained the responsibilities that are on the shoulders of town employees are multifaceted. “Nampa is the third largest city in Idaho, but is the largest full-service city.” Meaning, Nampa takes care of all of its own systems and does not outsource. This is not a small task with a population of 106,860.
One of the more innovative aspects of what helps the city run smoothly is the geographic information system overseen by Craig Tarter. GIS is a mapping data system that accrues and maintains information on almost every single public program in the city. From pedestrian paths, cemetery spaces, proposed subdivisions, sidewalk conditions, construction projects to road work and traffic studies, there are maps of the city for just about any sort of data one might wish to know. Basically, if Nampa was a person, GIS is where the brain’s spatial memory is stored. The result of this program is a city that’s better able to analyze changes and trends and then make more informed decisions on growth potential. It has also been useful in bringing accountability and transparency to problematic situations that have arisen.
In today’s world, a strong online presence is needed but often overlooked. Remaining on the subject of information, a well-organized facet of Nampa is its website. Precision, clarity and a consistent message throughout all online department sources of media can be nonexistent in local municipalities. But upon opening Nampa’s various online sites, one is greeted with user-friendly access and direct channels of information to all portions of the town. This is especially important in 2021’s heatwave. One of the many things citizens can find on the website is information on the town’s four “cooling locations” and what time they are open to the public.
Nampa also has a number of other public works departments, which share the burden of caring for their city. Since the geography and climate of the area is a desert oasis, water management is one of the most important concerns of the city. The waterworks, wastewater and environmental compliance departments all work together carefully in order to maintain the balance of drinking water, irrigation water, stormwater runoff and sewage. Navigating water issues hasn’t been made any easier by recent climate change, drought, city growth and aging infrastructure. Simultaneously, Nampa is part of the Boise valley and part of a connection of agriculture economies that are linked in the area.
According to Public Works Deputy Director of Water Nate Runyan, nearly 20,000,000 gallons of water go through Nampa’s pipes daily. In 2020, a recycled water program was implemented after Nampa received an Idaho class A reuse permit. In the summer of 2024, the Phyllis canal conveyance system and existing pumping facilities will have recycled water available, a completely new source of water for the city. By adding this source on top of putting in place the proper procedures for directing water usage and flow, Nampa is not just improving the current state of affairs but aiming for the sustainability of itself for years to come.
But, one of the more drastic improvements within the last five years has been the reduction in crime that newer programs within the Nampa Police Department have helped lower by 30.5% in just three years, a 10% average per year. The Nampa officers even go above and beyond duty at times. As Bowman reported last year, the police herded and wrangled a 6-foot alligator, which had somehow gotten loose. There is no conclusive evidence whether or not capturing the alligator had anything to do with the yearly lowering of crime rate, but she did note police chasing an alligator in Idaho made the 2020 national news.
At the end of the day, what emerges most from observing Nampa is the true depth of care and service city employees give to their city and just how much effort is truly involved. Bowman stated it plainly.
“I didn’t fully appreciate the amount of behind-the-scenes work it takes until I started working for the town.” She laughed. “It’s almost like peeking at the wizard behind the curtain from ‘Wizard of Oz.’ We have some true municipal heroes in this town.”
While wizardry isn’t quite what the Nampa government employee team does to complete daily tasks, good things can be said about the power behind community synergy, and there is certainly a type of magic when people partner together with the goal of creating something bigger than themselves. “The main thing we all want here is for this town to be a safe and healthy community where people prosper,” said Kling. “The great strength of Nampa is the people. This is a place where neighbor helps neighbor and handshakes still mean something.”