Friday, July 24, 2009

County considers funding priorities

Officials need to set tentative budget by Aug. 4

Express Staff Writer

Photo by David N. Seelig

Blaine County officials are steadily refining the details of the county's tentative budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which will kick off just over two months from now on Oct. 1.

On Thursday, the Blaine County Commission wrapped up its third all-day budget hearing this week. The commissioners will meet again on Friday, July 31, for a final session.

Last summer, the commissioners approved a $22.7 million budget for the 2009 fiscal year. Out of that, just under $8 million came from property taxes.

For the 2010 fiscal year, the commissioners are again basing their discussions on that $22.7 million figure. However, in essence, the county budget is smaller this year. Included in the $22.7 million figure is an estimated $1.5 million the county will pay for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office's management of the Ketchum Police Department. That is a new program that will ultimately be paid for by the city of Ketchum.

On Thursday, the commission discussed what remains a sizeable portion of the county's annual budget: funding the Blaine Manor senior care facility. Since 2000, the county has picked up the tab for the portion of the 25-bed skilled nursing facility's budget not covered by fees and other revenue.

For 2010, the county is looking at funding just under $625,000 of the facility's budget, said Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman.

Within the next several years, officials hope to see the county's responsibility for funding a portion of the Blaine Manor's operations cease. Back in May 2007, county voters approved the sale of the facility with the stipulation that the proceeds of the sale be given to the nonprofit Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation to help fund the construction of a multi-million dollar continuing care facility in Croy Canyon, west of Hailey. The organization is currently working to raise a sizeable portion of the new facility's cost through private donors.

In October, the organization will update the commission on its fundraising efforts. Bowman said he'd like to see the new facility opened for use and the county out of the nursing-home business by Oct. 1, 2013.

Because the facility will have far more bed space and thus bring in more revenue than Blaine Manor, Bowman said, it should be capable of being self-sustained.

By Tuesday, Aug. 4, the commissioners must vote on the details of a tentative, "not-to-exceed" county budget. While the commission cannot increase those tentative budget figures once they've been set, they can either decrease the budget amount later in September or shift funds around, or "laterally," to cover other budget needs that may arise.

Property taxes make up about a third of annual county revenue. The remainder includes state revenue sharing from income and sales taxes, federal PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) payments, liquor sales, state gas taxes and fees from building permits and land-use applications.

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