By Lyndsie Kiebert
The sum of budgeted expenditures between the FY2020 and FY2021 Bonner County budgets are remaining largely the same — $64.2 million and $64 million, respectively — as the county prepares to adopt a budget for the coming year during public hearings on Monday, Aug. 24.
The county will not increase property taxes the allotted annual 3% for the third year in a row, but will take taxes on new construction. Additionally, Bonner County Clerk Mike Rosedale told the Reader that the commissioners have decided to waive this year’s foregone taxes, meaning that future boards will not be able to use the 3% tax increase not implemented for 2021.
“Foregone is the amount of money … that we are eligible to increase our taxes by, but don’t. We can save up that ‘potential’ tax amount over time, which could become a very large amount,” Rosedale said. “Our commissioners wanted to limit the potential liability of our county taxpayers and waive the 3% from what we could have used this year. Thus, our foregone will remain the same overall from last year, and not grow larger. The exposure to future boards using the foregone is now kept in check, as this year’s 3% will forever be gone.”
According to Rosedale, “[COVID-19] has reinforced Bonner County’s desire to not increase taxes again.” He said that while some revenue streams have decreased, others have stayed consistent and some — such as the share of tax receipts — have increased.
“In all we’re very aware of everyone’s financial stress and are trying to make sure Bonner County does not add to their stress, which is why we’re not raising taxes, even for [cost-of-living adjustments],” he said. “Even as we publish this budget, we are very aware that things could change and will respond appropriately if revenues drop materially.”
While salaries were the talk of the county during last year’s budget season, such drastic increases aren’t apparent in the proposed 2021 budget. Human Resources Director Cindy Binkerd said the county engaged a third-party consulting agency, AmeriBen, in 2020 to gauge how county wages and benefits stacked up against the outside market. AmeriBen determined that Bonner County was “lagging behind by an average of approximately 2%” across departments — a difference made up when commissioners approved a 3% merit raise for all county employees in 2021.
Binkerd also noted that county law enforcement will see “market adjustments” in the coming year, and “nothing has changed with the elected officials’ salaries” — though they will receive the 3% proposed merit raise.
The most notable jump in funding for FY2021 appears in the Justice Fund, which has increased by more than $3 million since 2019.
Rosedale said that substantial increase is due to “small annual wages increases,” “a concerted effort” to retain Bonner County Sheriff’s Office employees with market-competitive salaries, “major technology implementations” for BCSO and the Public Defender’s office, increased staffing requirements for the Public Defender and court, as well as a new District Court judge.
“And lastly, we can’t control who brings suits against us, which we must defend to save from having to pay otherwise much higher costs,” Rosedale said.
The county has also played the role of plaintiff throughout 2020, as its suit against the city of Sandpoint regarding The Festival at Sandpoint gun ban — filed in September 2019 — had accrued $117,631 in legal fees as of Aug. 6.
The county is also preparing to tap $800,000 in Statutory Reserve funds in FY2021, split evenly between the General and Justice funds. Rosedale said that money is not allocated toward any planned expenditure, but is intended as an “emergency fund.”
“The way Idaho Code is set up, if we don’t have it budgeted it is very difficult to increase the budget if an emergency does pop up, with a few exceptions,” he said. “We budget this so that if there is a problem, we can deal with it more easily.”
The county spent Statutory Reserve funds in 2020 — about $752,000 between the General and Justice funds — but not in 2018 or 2019.
Bonner County EMS, which budgets separately from all other departments, has allocated $4.1 million for FY2021, which is just over the estimated $3.9 million spent in 2020.
Public hearings regarding the proposed budgets are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 24 in the first floor conference room at the Bonner County Administration Building, 1500 Highway 2 in Sandpoint. In-person attendance is allowed, and each hearing will also be live streamed on Zoom. Information needed to join via Zoom will be published prior to the hearings on bonnercountyid.gov.
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