GRANGEVILLE During the budget process the last nine years, the Idaho County Commission has kept the total amount to be levied from taxpayers the same: $2,867,566. Because the value of private property in the county changes year-to-year, the property tax rate homeowners see on their year-end bills could be higher or lower than it was last year, but commissioners have long argued that holding the total levy amount the same year after year amounts to holding the line on taxes.
Earlier this month, department heads presented their annual budget requests to the board and last week, at the July 19 meeting, county clerk Kathy Ackerman gave the board a summary of what department heads had asked.
To keep the amount to be levied the same again this year, the board would need to trim about $300,000 from the total county department heads requested earlier this month, Ackerman told the Free Press Wednesday, July 20. She pointed out the commission has typically trimmed the department heads’ requests for raises for county employees – and, some years, the board has cut county employees insurance benefits.
July 12 meeting minutes, online at idahocounty.org, note that the board instructed agent Don Solberg to request an increase of no more than 3-5 percent on the insurance Regence provides.
The Free Press attended another part of the July 12 meeting, during which some department heads asked the board to consider paying county employees the same overall amounts the county paid last year, which would amount to giving raises of about 3.8 percent, because the 2016 fiscal year included 27 pay periods, whereas fiscal 2017 will include 26.
Some departments have found it hard to compete for qualified workers. For example, Gene Meinen, head of the road and bridge department, told commissioners that while flaggers are commanding $17.50 an hour, certified equipment operators presently get $17.70.
“If I take those guys off of their duty to flag, then I have to hire trucks at $85 an hour,” Meinen said. “That’s just the way the market is.”
The budget also reflects changes in how the county performs some tasks, such as in a significant change in how the jail houses inmates, which was tried out earlier this year.
According to a June 1 letter obtained by the Free Press, in December 2015, 13 people needed to serve 99 days in jail, but only three of them were able to serve out sentences totaling 27 days. The county began a trial period of paying to house some inmates in other counties. In January 2016, 83 percent of days were served, with 19 sentenced to serve 98 days and 16 of them serving a total of 82 days.
In February, according to the letter, a murder trial disrupted the tryout, and of 12 sentenced to 62 days, only five served 26. In March and April, the new approach cleared the rest of the backlog; 100 percent of days were served, with a total of 14 serving 110 days during those two months.
The tryout cost $26,400 from Jan. 1-April 30.
“The costs incurred for this housing has had a dramatic effect on our budget, which was initially set at $15,000 and is now in excess of 172 percent,” Sheriff Doug Giddings wrote in the June 1 letter to the board.
For FY 2017, according to the letter, Giddings requested $107,500 more, with a $96,000 bump for the jail budget and $11,000 more for the sheriff’s office budget. That includes $6,000 for fuel, $5,000 for vehicle capital, $500 for vehicle operating expenses, $30,000 to pay a transport deputy, $65,700 for inmate housing and $300 for uniforms.
“It works great,” Giddings told the commission July 12. “Except for the murder trial, it’s been 100 percent. The judge now has no complaint. That’s why it occurred in the first place, because the judge came to me and said – well, I won’t tell you what he said – but anyway, it wasn’t working for him. So we made it work. And it’s working, but it costs money.”
In the sheriff’s department, as in other departments, some expenses – such as wages for the transport deputy and some overtime patrols – are paid for by federal or state government grants.
The county budget process is still at an early stage, with the commission’s budget proposal due for publication in August, tentatively Aug. 10, and the annual budget hearing to take place at 10 a.m. Sept. 6, the first Tuesday after Labor Day.