Wednesday, July 23, 2008

County scrutinizing 2009 budget figures

Tough economic times requires belt-tightening, county official says

Express Staff Writer

Mug, Tom Bowman

The county's budget team is on track to present the preliminary details of a recommended 2009 fiscal year budget to the Blaine County Commission early next week.

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, July 29, the commissioners will consider the team's proposed budget figures. Using those proposed figures as the basis for their discussion, the commissioners will then vote on the details of a tentative, "not-to-exceed" county budget.

The county fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through September 30.

Idaho law requires counties and municipalities to establish these tentative budget numbers prior to finalizing the figures each year in early September. While the County Commission cannot increase the tentative budget figures they agree to next week, they do have the ability to either decrease the budget later on in September or shift funds around to cover other budgetary needs that may arise.

The county's budget for the 2008 fiscal year was set at $29 million, a significant increase over the previous 2007 fiscal year budget, which was just over $22 million. However, that increase was largely due to a $7.5 million payment to help fund the construction of the new Blaine County public safety facility, which has its official grand opening later today.

For the upcoming 2009 fiscal year budget, county officials are making an extra effort not to have to raise property taxes above the current 2008 figures in light of the lean economic times, Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said Monday.

Although Idaho law allows counties and municipalities to raise property taxes by up to three percent each year, county commissioners have asked their budget team to come to them with a preliminary budget that doesn't take advantage of that ability to raise property taxes, Bowman said. Anything not funded in the proposed budget that would require the county to raise property taxes—such as funding requests from local nonprofits, initiatives or certain county projects—will be considered on a case-by-case basis, he said.

"If it goes up I don't want it to be by accident," he explained.

Bowman said those additional funding requests will be considered as part of the commissioners' public budget discussion next week on Tuesday.

It should be noted that property taxes are not the only source of revenue that contributes to the revenue side of the Blaine County budget. Only about a third of the revenue comes from property taxes, Bowman said. The remainder comes from sources like revenue sharing with the state on income and sales taxes, federal PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) payments, liquor sales, state gas tax monies and fees from building permits and land-use applications.

Bowman said he hopes the public will attend the meeting next week to comment on specific funding requests that would require the county to raise property taxes should they be placed in the county budget.

"The public will put us on the spot," he said.

Blaine County Administrator Mike McNees, part of the county's budget team, said the level of funding requests from private entities in the county has more than doubled from last year's. McNees predicted that in what basically amounts to a "static revenue period," fully funding those requests may be a stretch for the county.

"That is going to be difficult for the commission," he said.

McNees said the 2009 fiscal year budget is "very much a status quo from the county's view," which makes any significant additions to the county's funding priorities unlikely.

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