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County proposed budget up

Increase largely due to justice, jail, murder trial issues

Included in the proposed Idaho County budget is the cost of repairing the courthouse parking lot, estimated at $150,000.

Photo by Andrew Ottoson
Included in the proposed Idaho County budget is the cost of repairing the courthouse parking lot, estimated at $150,000.

— The amount of property tax Idaho County requires to pay public expenses is going up, but the commission’s decision isn’t expected to make a big change to the rate most homeowners pay.

“A good portion of the increase is due to bad people,” commissioner Skip Brandt said, noting that a new murder trial for Mark Lankford has been budgeted in, as have changes in the county’s adult probation, public defense and jail systems.

Idaho County will collect $89,000 more than it has in recent years, if the commission follows through with the budget detailed in a legal notice this week. The increase will be divided over the entire amount of private property in the county, which is approximately $1.2 billion having grown by an estimated $7 million last year.

The $89,000 increase is on top of the $2.8 million the county has levied each year since 2011, and nudges the levy to $2.956 million, the highest amount since the board levied $2.972 million in 2009. It’s a three percent hike over last year’s amount, which is the maximum state law allows.

For officials involved in the budget process, the county levy amount is only part of the calculus. The county will also collect the property taxes levied by local taxing districts, such as fire protection districts, water districts, cemetery districts and school districts. The final tax rate property owners face varies significantly from place to place.

In Grangeville, the county collected 1.27 percent in 2015, which included 0.618 percent to fund the city. Tax collectors took 1.19 percent in Cottonwood, 1.14 percent in Kooskia, 0.9 percent in Ferdinand, 0.889 percent in Riggins, 1.16 percent in White Bird, 1.02 percent in Stites, 0.59 percent in Elk City and 0.67 percent outside of the cities. Kamiah, which passed no school levy, faced perhaps the smallest tax rate in the state at 0.26 percent.

Another factor also potentially looms larger for taxpayers than the county’s tax hike: The amount homeowners are allowed to exempt grew by $5,000.

What the county does with property tax money has changed significantly over time, even as the number of county employees has trendlessly ranged from 115 to 125 since 2005.

Budget trends have seen expenses grow from $10.64 million in 2000 to $15.82 million this year, with an all-time high of $22.50 million last year due largely to the major runway reconstruction project ongoing at the airport. Some county expenses fall directly on local taxpayers, and some, like the airport project, are largely offset with grant money received through federal and state government programs.

Ultimately, taxpayers are on the hook for growth in government, whether at the local level or the national level. And the county budget has grown: The solid waste budget line has grown by more than $990,000 since the turn of the century; the noxious weeds line has grown by more than $850,000 and the road and bridge line has grown by nearly $650,000.

Compared to last year, the 2017 budget includes hefty increases for several law enforcement lines: the sheriff’s line is up $12,000 to $1.39 million; the jail line is up $50,000 to $830,000; the prosecuting attorney line is up $54,000 to $282,000; the public defender line is up $45,000 to $173,000; the district court line is up $240,000 to $497,000. Some of the increase traces back to a jail crowding issue the county experienced last winter, and some of it anticipates the need to hold a new murder trial for Lankford.

Brandt noted a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union forced the change in public defense.

Compared to last year, the capitol improvement line is up $135,000 to $160,000, to cover the cost of repairing the courthouse parking lot, estimated at $150,000, as well as $28,000 for a new roof.

The solid waste line is up $19,000 to nearly $1.78 million, to cover the cost of fencing and consolidating Camas Prairie dumpsters. The line does not include an estimated $650,000 that would be needed to cover the county’s share of starting up a joint landfill near Council, where the tipping would be about half what it presently costs the county to dispose of solid waste at Missoula, Mont.

The noxious weeds line is up $195,000 to more than $1.05 million, with the increase split between establishing a new superintendent and the cost of post-fire area treatment.

A large infrastructure expense is coming off the books, reflected in a $6.8 million decrease in the airport line. Two other infrastructure lines are budgeted lower than last year: there’s a $256,000 decrease in the road and bridge line, and a $148,000 decrease in the emergency communications line.


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