Twin Falls designated as metropolitan area years earlier than expected

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) It started with an email.

“It’s one of those emails that you read and you go, holy cow what just happened,” said Travis Rothweiler, the city manager for Twin Falls.

The message was from a regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor. She was telling Rothweiler that the City of Twin Falls, is the center of a new metropolitan statistical area. At least that’s according to the White House and its Office of Management and Budget.

Jan Roeser, the regional economist, saw the designation in a bulletin from the office posted this fall. As soon as she saw it she emailed Rothweiler.

“There was a level of surprise,” Rothweiler said.

The surprise wasn’t about the fact that Twin Falls is received the designation at all, but that it was happening now.

The city has been planning for this for years. It’s given to areas when a city exceeds a population of 50,000. So Twin Falls was expecting the designation to come after the 2020 census, as they would likely meet that population then. To their surprise, the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, used projections from 2016 census data.

“It occurred outside of a census period and we were always lead to believe that the census would drive that process,” Rothweiler said.

The designation isn’t just a title change from a Rural Community, but it changes what the OMB expects from Twin Falls and how things may operate. It’s not just the city of Twin Falls either, but all municipalities in Twin Falls and Jerome County.

Twin Falls still doesn’t know the full scope of what will change, all of city employees questions haven’t been answered yet. Rothweiler says it may change how the city applies for some of its funding. It definitely means they have to start a metropolitan planning organization, they will have to start a public transportation system, and they will likely have to start treating storm water before it enters open water like the Snake River.

“As we continue to explore there’s no doubt that we’ll learn and find more,” Rothweiler said.

So as they wade into the urban designation more criterion and services may pop up.

However, there are some reasons for optimism. For one they have a couple of years. Rothweiler said they likely won’t have to be compliant until 2019 or 2020. While that’s two to three years earlier than they were banking on, he says it’s doable.

“It’s definitely going to cause us to have to put together a game plan much faster, but I think we’re going to be able to work to the challenge,” Rothweiler said.

They’ve also already had some agencies reach out to the city to let them know they can help. The Department of Labor is one, the Idaho Transportation Department is another.

Twin Falls isn’t the only city to go through this. Rothweiler says they will have help and follow the example of other cities that have gone through the designation change as well.

While this is all happening faster than they were expecting, they aren’t starting from nothing.

“The benefit that we have is we’ve been working in partnership with the surrounding communities within Jerome and Twin Falls County for many years, so these relationships exist,” Rothweiler said.

According to 2016 data Twin Falls has a population of 48,260. Rothweiler and the city have not had an opportunity to meet with the OMB yet. When they do, he says one of his first questions would be why this was triggered now instead of when it officially gets to 50,000 people living here.

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