By Lyndsie Kiebert
Bonner County commissioners moved to adopt the FY2021 budget following Aug. 24 public hearings that featured little to no public input.
The county’s general budget for the coming year sits at just over $64 million, while the EMS budget — built separately — is $4.1 million for 2021. Both budgets remain largely the same as the expenditures estimated for FY2020.
Commissioners commented during both the morning and evening public hearings Aug. 24 that no members of the public were in the audience — only department heads and other county employees — while live streams of each meeting have accumulated about a dozen views on YouTube as of Aug. 26.
As a result, discussion on the proposed FY2021 budget remained mostly limited to what County Clerk Mike Rosedale and the commissioners chose to offer up in opening statements. All lauded each department for a “smooth” budget season, and highlighted that the commissioners opted not to increase taxes the 3% allowed annually by state statute for the second year in a row.
“With COVID causing people to lose jobs, [the board] didn’t want to put anybody over the barrel,” Rosedale said.
The county is taking revenue from new construction in the amount of $573,000 for FY2021, according to Commissioner Dan McDonald. Rosedale described new construction as, “If we have 10 of us and we split a $1,000 bill, we each pay $100 — if one more person joins the party, they pay $100, too … So the new buildings moving in from wherever, they have to pay what everybody else is paying.”
Commissioners decided to waive this year’s foregone taxes, meaning that future boards will not be able to use the 3% passed on this budget season. Rosedale said that by waiving the foregone taxes, the board limits the ability to drop a massive increase on county taxpayers in upcoming years.
“The commissioners have decided to waive [this year’s foregone] so that future boards can’t pull that out of the bag and stick it to the community,” he said.
Commissioner Jeff Connolly said that from the beginning of the budget process, he didn’t think the county would be able to afford merit raises for county employees. However, employees — including elected officials — will see raises around 3% across the board in 2021. Bonner County Sheriff’s Office personnel may see larger raises as the county makes market adjustments.
“Luckily, we had quite a bit of new construction and some other things that helped us through, and we were able to give the people that work [for] Bonner County a raise, which they deserve,” Connolly said. “They’re doing a great job for us.”
Funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act do not appear in the FY2021 budget. The $2 million that Bonner County qualifies for to offset property taxes would likely arrive in December, McDonald said.
“Our idea would be if we got the money, we would just hold it and offset next year’s [taxes], because that’s how it was advertised — to offset property taxes, and we want to make sure we’re faithful to that as well, if we get it,” he said.
Other CARES Act money — meant to supplement law enforcement and EMS wages during the pandemic — is still in limbo, as the commissioners filed a complaint with Idaho District Court in July seeking guidance on how the state’s interpretation of the Act matched up to federal guidelines for how the money should be spent. If Bonner County were to follow Idaho’s lead, the complaint argues, taxpayers could end up footing the bill and elected officials may face criminal charges.
McDonald told the Sandpoint Reader in July that “the declaratory judgement should force the governor’s office to come to the table to either indemnify so we can move forward, [if] not … we will remove ourselves from the program.”
The case has yet to be settled.
The FY2021 general and EMS budgets were unanimously adopted during the evening hearing.
“There is no fat in this year’s budget — everything is really lean,” Rosedale said. “We are going to be pressing to pinch every dollar that we don’t spend out of this year going into next year. We are recycling all the public’s money very, very carefully.”
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