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For the week of March 14 through 20, 2001

Blaine County boundary shift postponed

Blaine, Minidoka officials say they were blind-sided by proposal


By TRAVIS PURSER
and GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writers

A bill sponsored last week in the Idaho Legislature by Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, that would redraw the boundary between Blaine and Minidoka counties appears to be indefinitely on hold following a Monday meeting of county officials.

The bill proposes shifting 360,402 acres from Blaine Countyís southern panhandle to Minidoka County. The hamlet of Yale is the only community in the sparsely populated region.

But Minidoka County Commissioner Dave Teeter said Tuesday that Minidoka officials asked Cameron to withdraw the bill, and "heís going to back off" the issue.

Teeter said the three Minidoka commissioners decided to ask Cameron to do that after conducting a conference call Monday with Blaine County Commissioner Mary Ann Mix.

Cameron did not return several phone messages left by the Mountain Express last week and this week, but Teeter said elected officials from both counties needed to meet with each other and with people living in the panhandle area of Blaine County before the bill goes any further in the Legislature. The bill could be on hold until next year, he said.

Cameronís bill "kind of caught everybody off guard and got people a little upset," Teeter said, though the idea of moving the county boundary is not new. "Weíve talked to your assessor beforeóthough not as a meeting, but we visited with [people in the assessorís office] about it."

In a March 12 letter to Sen. Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, Blaine County Commissioners characterized Cameronís proposal as a "hostile takeover" and "an outrageous affront to our sovereignty." It also states "no one" consulted any Blaine County elected official or resident before Cameron introduced his bill.

Minidoka Commissioners Larry Harper and Teeter said officials there have discussed the idea for years, but they were not informed about the bill until after Cameron introduced it last week. Harper said he learned about the bill from a newspaper article last week, and he is not sure what prompted Cameron to introduce the bill now.

Because the panhandle area is home to very few residentsó13 registered voters and perhaps 40 people in allóBlaine County Commissioner Dennis Wright said he believes the proposed boundary shift has nothing to do with gerrymandering but is a "money grab."

Wright expressed skepticism that Minidoka officials had nothing to do with the billís introduction, and suggested they are trying to appropriate the $150,000 to $200,000 the area contributes through property taxes and federal funds to Blaine Countyís $13 million budget.

"Everyone in Blaine County would pay a little bit" to make up the loss, Wright said. "Itís called theft where I come from."

"Your county is such a wealthy county that I couldnít imagine them worrying too much about that," Teeter responded.

Wright said there may be other factors motivating the issue. Blaine County is "not loved in the state," he said.

"If you want to get rid of Blaine County, you just treat it like a corpse and all these vultures get to take a bite out of it."

Wright, however, said that he could see some merit in a boundary shift.

Currently, 11 students in the Blaine County panhandle area attend schools in Minidoka County. Those schools received $7,513.18 last year from the Blaine County School District as compensation.

But Minidoka County pays to provide police and fire protection to the panhandle area.

In a written statement accompanying his bill, Cameron stated that one of the proposalís benefits would be that residents in the panhandle area would be closer to their "communities of interest." Currently the residents drive through Minidoka County to reach the Blaine County courthouse.

Also, Cameron stated, the residents would have more influence on political entities that represent them, such as the school board or the commission.

If the Legislature passes the bill as itís written, the new Blaine County would consist of 1,337,438 acres, down from 1,697,840 acres. Minidoka County would grow to 850,031 acres, up from 489,629 acres. The separation between the two would be drawn approximately from the northeast corner of Minidoka County to a nearby corner of Butte County.

"Itís a fairly odd thing," Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said. "Ordinarily a senator would talk to another senator on something like this. [Cameron] has not even talked with the Blaine County Commissioners."

Additionally, Stennett said, the bill is "way ahead of itself."

Stennett interprets state law as requiring that both counties involved in a boundary adjustment must consent by resolution to the proposal.

"I donít know where it came from, why itís in front of us or what the point is," Stennett said.

Stennett said Sen. Sorensen, told him she agrees that consensus should be sought from the two counties involved before action is taken at the Legislature. Sorensen told Stennett she would not further entertain the bill in committee this legislative session, Stennett said.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, called Cameronís move "rude" and said she is "disappointed" with his lack of communication on the issue.

Further, she said she traveled door-to-door in the area last fall to meet some of her constituents and the issue of redrawing the county lines did arise. She said none of the Yale-area residents she talked to were interested in being part of Minidoka County for fear of increased property taxes.

Blaine County Commissioner Wright said the residentsí property taxes would double.

Nonetheless, introduction of the bill has initiated a debate about how appropriate the swap might be.

Blaine Cook, a Yale sugar beet farmer, said he hadnít heard about the proposal but was interested in discovering details.

Blaine Countyís core, the Wood River Valley, is far off and disconnected from the ways of life in its southern-most reaches, he said.

North county bonds, development agreements and zoning restrictions are unrelated to the potato, grain and sugar beet industries that drive the areaís economy. The arid area is roughly 100 miles from Bellevue as the crow flies. There are no paved roads through that region, which includes vast lava fields from the Great Rift.

The differences between life in the Wood River Valley and the rest of Blaine County continue to grow, Cook said. He said thereís nothing for him to gain from such proposals as the November 1999 Blaine County Recreation District bond proposal for Wood River Valley recreation facilities.

"Iíve never set foot on one of those bike paths up there, but I helped pay for Ďem," he said of the $1.7 million bike path bond Blaine County voters approved in August 1988.

 

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