March 2, 2021:
We are well into 2021, and springtime is around the corner. It has been a full year from when I realized this new pandemic had arrived and was going to bring a rollercoaster of change. Covid-19, social issues, elections, and unrest have been anything but smooth and predictable. And while things have not always gone the way I may have preferred, I am feeling grateful while clinging to the wise notion “change is mandatory; growth is optional.” I appreciate the truth in that statement and take it to heart. So what specific growth and improvement do I want to see for American Falls? I have four young children, so my focus is not merely through the next year, but through the next few decades and beyond. My family is invested in every aspect of our town, and the fantastic city employees and council members are as well.
GROWTH: I am excited about our growth potential, thanks to Valley Wide Co-op and the Lamb Weston expansion. Between these large projects and the nationwide pilgrimage to Idaho, housing is in high demand in Power County, and I believe it is just the beginning. Fiber through the city and public wi-fi (which will be live this month) are an appealing advantage as we work to catch up with the 21st century. Technology is the future, and the AF Broadband project is an incredible blessing and asset to our area as faster and more reliable internet becomes necessary for business as well as residents that work from home. Residential developers see the opportunity, and I hope they come and build quickly! Also, last spring the city council passed an ordinance to form the American Falls Development Authority in conformance with the Idaho Urban Renewal Law. The Council and I are poised to appoint commissioners and jump at opportunities presented in American Falls’ very best interest.
IMPROVEMENT: I appreciate the American Falls School District and their dedication to our kids who are the future leaders and game-changers of life. Children are my number one priority, and the AF City-Wide Preschool Initiative has been a delight to be a part of. I have been so impressed with this endeavor, and I will share specific information about that next week. Priority number two is setting up the city for success many years down the road. Plans are already in place this year for road work, ADA accessibility, park improvements, Willow Bay development, new and improved resources for the police and so on. The City Code Book is due for a complete update, and the Council and I are working tirelessly to comb through every page and ordinance to find the appropriate fit to meet our needs today and tomorrow. After that project wraps up, we will turn our efforts more aggressively to some infrastructure issues plaguing our town, specifically regarding water and wastewater.
PRUDENCE: If we want our area to grow, we must be more mindful of our water-usage seeing that we already exceed pumping-capacity each summer as things stand now. More homes and businesses coming = more water demand. A waste water study is currently being conducted to look at the full scope of the underground pipe network. Waterline breaks are becoming increasingly frequent, and these old, eroding pipes will need to be replaced before we face some catastrophic emergency due to their failure. That is no small, nor cheap, feat and I want to explain myself clearly: I am a frugal person—frugal to the point that it pains my husband. I spend money very carefully. I am closely watching spending, working to prevent higher taxes, questioning and checking every dollar spent, as we all should. I hope every bond, levy, proposal that comes to voters by way of taxpayers’ dollars will be dissected to carefully separate the wants from the needs. The taxes here are pretty dang high to be in a city with the poverty rate we have. We can have anything we want, but not everything we want. We must see the difference and choose wisely because our future depends on it!
It sure would be nice if 2021 wasn’t quite as dramatic as last year, but we will continually face change. Will we see change as a challenge, obstacle, or opportunity? I strive to look for the good and be proactive rather than reactive in thought, word, and deed. I am learning to constantly evaluate if and how I need to course-correct for the benefit of my city and family. I love American Falls and feel honored to serve as Mayor of the best city on the planet. Many thanks to you all!
Mayor Rebekah Sorensen
March 9, 2021
Hallelujah!! Power County is in the GREEN minimal spread category for Covid-19! Our active cases have been in the single digits for weeks and qualifying individuals have turned out in droves to receive the Covid vaccine. I will continue to be optimistic that our spring and summer will look very familiar to pre-Covid days. Everything has been different and weird this year, but one area has kept my kids (and me) sane and moving forward. School. I really have to give the American Falls School District a lot of credit in working hard to safely keep schools open to preserve some comfort and normalcy for kids and parents. Do you realize what a rarity and blessing it has been to not have shut down at all in the 2020-2021 year? For kids to be with their friends and have recess and have regular, albeit masked, face-to-face relationships with their teachers? THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!
Our school district has a fantastic group of leaders, teachers, and volunteers that are invested in our kids from kindergarten to high school graduation. Last fall I had the opportunity to join the AF Preschool Collaborative to work with some of these teachers and partners to focus on early learning and ensure children are kindergarten-ready. American Falls School District partnered with the United Way of Southeastern Idaho in 2019 to create the American Falls City-Wide Preschool Initiative to provide high-quality preschool options, increase available seats at existing preschools, and provide scholarship opportunities to get children into preschool where cost is the hindrance. The preschools participating in the initiative receive training and all use the same excellent curriculum “Get Set for School” by Learning Without Tears. There is more information at www.afpreschools.org.
Tennille Call is the local Community Preschool Coordinator for the Collaborative, and I admire her experience and passion for early childhood education. I never went to preschool back in the 90s, and even though I have sent my older kids, I had not realized how crucial a foundation early education lays until Tennille took the time to enlighten me. Sure, preschool is fun, engaging, and full of friends, but those early lessons set kids up for success. Statistically, children who attend a high-quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, avoid risky behaviors, pursue higher education, have productive careers and be law-abiding citizens. For those parents/guardians that have a three or four-year-old child, please visit www.AFPRESCHOOLS.org for more information and to register for the 2021-2022 school year. Peruse the website to better understand the initiative, see participating preschools, meet the team, and find answers. Our children are the future, and they are in good hands. Best warm wishes to you all as spring approaches. Thank you for being my neighbor as I continue to work and serve the best city in the west! Until next time, American Falls…
Mayor Rebekah Sorensen
It is hard for me to believe, because it has gone by in a blink, that in 16 days I will have been your Mayor for eight years; originally appointed and twice elected. As you read this and in 16 days my life will have changed twice. The former is my choice the latter is not.
As I reflect back on the 14 years that I have served you as a City Councilperson and Mayor I do so with a great sense of achievement in the changes and improvements we have made as a community. I say we because no one person affects the changes and improvements that we have all experienced. To me serving has always been about the greater we; what we as a community do and have done to change all our lives for the better. If you have been here for at least 14 years think back and imagine what American Falls would be like without changes we have collectively accomplished; a vastly different place than where we live today is what I see.
Yet, a mill cannot grind on water that is past, we must continue to look to the future as the needs of our community evolve almost daily. Critical infrastructure needs maintenance and some even replaced; our children need more opportunities to recreate, long gone are the theater and bowling alley; affordable housing needs to be made available to young families; new sustainable businesses need to be attracted; the list goes on and on. And, while what we have accomplished in the past provides a great foundation for the future, the future does not ensure itself. The only way that I have learned to have a reasonable chance at future success has always been through directed planning and focused effort. Tomorrow is promised to no one; but should you be able to greet tomorrow with a plan and dedicated effort good things generally result. The future of our community is extremely promising, I believe.
For the past three weeks or so I have been working with City Clerk Miller, City Councilmembers, City Superintendents, County Clerk Sprague, County Assessor Annen, County Commissioner Funk and representatives from the Association of Idaho Cities to nail down the City’s budget in the era of COVID-19 and the reassessment of our property taxes. I may be the only one who welcomed the reassessment of our home. I welcomed it because I knew what it meant to our City budget, our employees and the services we are able to provide you. For nearly all of the 14 years that I have served you we have had to rob Peter to pay Paul among the different departments within the City. I know and understand that many feel they are over taxed and underserved; but when I reflect on what we can do without as a community it gets really hard to make much of a list that would return significant dollars back to you as tax payers. I empathize with the argument that folks on a fixed income make. As a teacher in Idaho my family has always lived on a fixed income, one paycheck to the next. Early on hard choices were made between things our kids needed and bills that were past due. I get it; it is really hard, desperately hard, when ends don’t meet. As a community I think we do a very good job in helping and accommodating those truly in need while providing essential services to everyone along with open green spaces to enjoy and relax.
As I tell you this I understand too that every choice is not our own. Things happen or rules are made that prohibit choices. A case in point is in part of a letter that I recently shared with City personnel and the City Council.
I intend to retire as a teacher effective June 30, 2020. According to instruction from PERSI, in order to be eligible to begin collecting my PERSI retirement, I must also resign from my position as Mayor for a period of at least 90 days. The applicable PERSI requirement reads as follows: If the member has not reached service retirement age or is at least 62 years of age (see Statute 59-1341), at the date of last contribution, the member must have a 90-day break in service between the date of last contribution and the part-time reemployment by the same employer. I turned 60 in March of this year, and while I could have retired as a teacher with full PERSI benefits three years ago, I am not of “service retirement age”.
Therefore, it is my intent to resign as Mayor of the City of American Falls effective June 17, 2020. Beginning June 17, I will forward all official correspondence received on my personal cell phone and email to the appropriate numbers and emails as directed by the City Clerk and Council. I can take no action or make any recommendations in regard to calls or emails received after my resignation; I leave that to the duly elected and appointed Council, Clerk, Police Chief, Fire Chief and legal counsel. You have wonderful Superintendents and employees to work with, support them, and they will make you as proud as they have made me.
It has been my honor to serve as your Mayor for the past eight years and the six years prior to that as a City Councilperson. Over the past 14 years I truly believe we, all of us, have made American Falls indeed the very best place to live, raise a family and work. I wish each of you all the best in the days, weeks and months to come.
According to PERSI I can have no association with the City of American Falls or any of its interests for a period of 90 days. I am prohibited from even attending public meetings regarding the City; thus, my extra efforts on the City’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget, the wellbeing of City employees and essential projects that have recently been completed or remain in the works. In speaking with your City Councilmembers about this last week I suggested that they each contribute to this space and provide you with their perspectives; I hope they do.
You remain in good hands my friends and neighbors. Your City Council has had your best interests and needs at heart in every deliberation and decision I have been a part of these last 14 years; that will not change. Like me, they believe that serving is always about the greater we; what we as a community do to change all of our lives for the better; thus assuring that American Falls will always be…
The best place to live…
Postscript: depending on circumstance this column may be suspended should my time become less available.