MELBA, Idaho — Idaho is growing. It’s something we’ve been telling you about a lot on Idaho News 6 through our State of 208 series.
Most of that growth is happening right here in our backyard, and cities across the state have started to prepare for the effects of Idaho's population boom.
Idaho’s population grew 17.3% in the 10 years since the 2010 Census, right behind Utah’s first-place growth of 18.5%. That means more than 270,000 new residents.
Data shows the largest numerical increases were in and around the Treasure Valley—with the majority near Boise.
As Idaho News 6 has reported, most of the rest of the country saw growth slow during the pandemic but here in Idaho, it was quite the opposite.
"The population growth for Idaho from 2019 to 2020 never slowed down," explained Craig Shaul, a regional economist with the Department of Labor. "Idaho, the open spaces, there's something about the attractiveness for people outside of the state that felt this was still a great place to go to during the challenges of a pandemic."
70 Idaho communities experienced population declines and 60 of those communities now have fewer than 1,000 residents. But a small Canyon County city on the outskirts of the Treasure Valley is proving to be an outlier: Melba.
Our media partners at the Idaho Statesman report there are three proposed subdivision projects in the small town.
One proposal is for the Royalmaid Estates subdivision, owned by Melba livestock breeder Jon Mortensen. It would contain 18 homes on 20.3 acres on Randolph Avenue.
The second is for the Freedom Park subdivision, owned by Melba real estate agent Jon Stosich, for 32 homes on 13.3 acres of land on Blue Ox Lane.
A third proposal from property owner Eugene Borman, a Nampa veterinarian, would bring 11 homes on 2.7 acres to northwest Melba. The Planning and Zoning Commission did not accept Borman’s proposal, saying it included too many homes for the property size.
However, the commission gave Borman time to make changes to bring his development in line with city codes. He is expected to submit an updated application.
A 26-house subdivision, Melba Estates, is already under construction near Southside Boulevard.
The proposed additions would mean a population boom bigger than what the city has seen in decades. Melba's population sits at just below 600 people and the city has about 260 residential homes. If these new subdivisions go up, that would mean more than 70 new homes and a huge boost to the town's population.
The city says they have room, and the growth isn't unexpected.
"We have room for 184 more homes to be built in city limits for water abilities and be able to meet fire compression and all that stuff," explained Melba Mayor Cory Dickard. "Being kind of hidden has kept people from discovering Melba, but we all saw the future that the growth was going to happen."
As Idaho News 6 has reported, the Melba City Council voted unanimously earlier this year to impose an emergency moratorium on new subdivisions for up to six months. The City of Caldwell passed a similar moratorium in May.
Officials say they decided to impose the moratorium for a variety of reasons, but most importantly they wanted to make sure the city was prepared to handle the growth.
"Our city limits are not very big, and there's only so much space we can expand and annex in," Dickard explained. "We've seen what's happened to some of these other towns, some things have been good, some things have not. We want to make sure it's done right because we only have one shot at this."
After news of the moratorium broke, residents of the Canyon County city reached out to Idaho News 6 with questions about ways the potential growth could impact the community. A big one is how the growth could impact education.
Right now, the district follows what's called an open enrollment model which allows students to enroll regardless of whether they live in city limits or not--but that might change as more students start living in the city.
“As we're looking at growth, we may have some room right now in first grade, but we're not going to take as many open enrollment students until we see what is going to happen," explained Dr. Sherry Ann Adams, Superintendent of the Melba School District.
The district says they're not sure yet what changes will look like, if there are any, but feel they are well equipped to handle the growth.
The new growth also raises the question of crime. The City of Melba doesn't have its own police department and instead works with the Canyon County Sheriff's Department.
A spokesperson with the sheriff's department told us the proposed growth wouldn't have much of an impact on the services the department is already providing, but if there was a spike in crime, the department would evaluate and adjust from there.
City leaders say its important to keep in mind a lot of this growth is still a few years down the road. Even if these three subdivision projects are approved once the moratorium is lifted, construction will take time.