By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Bonner County commissioners voted to adopt a $81 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year at a public hearing on Aug. 22, making official a nearly $19 million increase over FY 2022 owing in large part to two one-time boosts: a $8.7 million voter-approved USDA loan for Bonner County Solid Waste, and nearly $9 million in federal stimulus monies from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“The most notable thing about this budget is that it is much larger than last year’s budget,” county clerk Mike Rosedale said during the second of two public hearings hosted Aug. 22, adding later: “Fortunately, that is not reflected in the taxes.”
On the average, county taxpayers will see a 3% increase on their property taxes, as Bonner County opted to raise taxes the statutorily allotted annual 3% while also taking taxes on new construction. This average applies despite what Rosedale called “sky-high” property valuations. Some property owners will see increases over 3%, while others will pay less, he said.
“The most the taxes can go up is 3% of [last year’s] dollar amount,” he said. “Everybody’s valuations could quadruple, but the most the taxes can go up overall is 3%, dollarwise, over last year’s levied dollars.”
Bonner County Solid Waste will see a total budget increase from about $8 million to $14.5 million in FY 2023 thanks to the $8.7 million USDA loan already approved by voters via special revenue bond in 2021. That loan — which is meant to fund a 10-year solid waste infrastructure improvement plan — will be paid back using annual solid waste usage fees, which were increased in 2019 in order to cover the cost.
Other notable line item increases are occurring in the General, Justice and Road and Bridge funds. ARPA is being used for one-time technology improvement projects and revenue replacement, causing part of that financial spike, while other money is being channeled toward increasing wages for positions that Bonner County has had difficulty filling due to employees — particularly sheriff’s deputies and specially licensed truck drivers — seeking jobs in neighboring counties and states with better pay and a lower cost of living.
“We’re trying to keep all those people here,” Rosedale said. “That’s been one of the big pushes.”
ARPA funds are also being funneled into the county’s Emergency Medical Services budget, which will rise from about $5 million to $7 million in the coming fiscal year.
Commissioners adopted both budgets with a unanimous vote, marking the last time Commissioners Dan McDonald and Jeff Connolly will approve a budget while in office. While McDonald opted not to run for a third term this past primary season, Connolly lost his race to Republican challenger Asia Williams.
“Jeff and I have been in office now for six years,” McDonald said ahead of the Aug. 22 budget vote. “This has been probably the most difficult budget to try to balance we’ve ever had.”
McDonald noted that at the start of the FY 2023 budget process, the board thought the county was “in the hole a bit” and “might need to furlough employees” due to inflation.
“Some of this additional money that came in to support departments gave us some breathing room,” McDonald said, “but it was a long, difficult process.”
He encouraged the public to get involved in the budget workshops that begin annually in July, where commissioners go through the budget “line by line” and ask questions of the various department heads about how their money is spent.
“That’s really the best time to come and watch how the sausage is made,” he said.
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