Friday, August 8, 2008

County’s bill for EMS is a double tax

By R. Keith Roark

Having served six and one-half years as Blaine County prosecuting attorney, four years as Hailey mayor and many more years as Bellevue city attorney and Hailey city attorney, I feel compelled to express my full support for the position Hailey's current mayor and council are taking with regard to the countywide dispatch proposal.

Simply stated, the proposal that Blaine County's incorporated cities pay annual fees to the county for operation of the countywide dispatch system amounts to flagrant double taxation. Every property owner in every city pays the same tax rate to fund county services as is paid by those living outside city limits. City property owners do not, however, receive the same services as their non-city counterparts. While city taxpayers fund their own police departments, police services are provided to those outside city limits by the sheriff's office at the expense of city and non-city taxpayers alike. The entire Blaine County planning and zoning budget benefits non-city taxpayers exclusively but is funded by tax revenue that comes from city and non-city taxpayers alike. City taxpayers pay to prosecute misdemeanor offenses occurring within city limits and also pay for misdemeanor prosecutions for offenses occurring outside city limits, while non-city taxpayers pay only for the non-city misdemeanor prosecutions. For years now the countywide ambulance levy has subsidized the Wood River Rural Fire District while Hailey taxpayers funded their own fire protection services.

Now the sheriff and Board of Commissioners want city taxpayers to pay twice for dispatch services: once as county taxpayers and once again as city taxpayers. The proposal is neither fair nor intellectually honest. Although the vast majority of real property in Blaine County lies outside city limits, the vast majority of property-tax revenue comes from real property located within city limits. Agricultural property is taxed at a different and much lower rate than residential, commercial and industrial property. Consequently, tax revenue from a particular commercial property in Ketchum may far exceed the tax revenue the county receives from an agricultural property consisting of several hundred acres located in rural Blaine County.

By statute, the county sheriff has the obligation of providing law enforcement services throughout the county, including incorporated cities lying therein. When a city establishes a police force it relieves the sheriff's office of the expense of providing such services, but the taxpayers of the city continue to fund the sheriff's office. Modern dispatch services are part of the sheriff's responsibility and every city taxpayer is already supporting those services with the property taxes he/she pays to Blaine County every year. City taxpayers should not be asked to pay twice for the same services and county officials should stop threatening to cut off those services if our cities decline to accede to demands for double payment.

I congratulate Mayor Davis and the Hailey City Council for standing up for city taxpayers in Hailey and, for that matter, Sun Valley, Ketchum, Bellevue and Carey. The current Board of Commissioners may want to take note that not only does the majority of property tax revenue come from our cities, most of the voters live there as well.

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