As the nation swirls in the midst of a debate over the proper level of government funding, Blaine County is struggling with the same question as county commissioners prepare to set the budgets for fiscal 2012.
The commissioners will meet on Tuesday, Aug. 2, to set the county's tentative estimated $26.5 million budget, which includes an increase in county property taxes of just under 6 percent.
At the end of last week's budget workshop, expenses had been estimated slightly higher, but when the city of Bellevue terminated its contract with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office to provide law enforcement, the budget dropped by about $377,000.
The Ambulance District budget, estimated at $2.15 million, was added to last week's figure, bringing the entirety of the county's expenses up to roughly $28.6 million.
County expenses are expected to be up slightly from last year due to funded requests for capital improvements such as fixing a heating-and-cooling system in the county's annex building in Hailey and replacing the roof of the Old Courthouse.
Commissioners questioned the necessity of these improvements last week when reviewing potential expenses, but eventually determined that delaying them might result in higher costs in the future.
"I just don't want it to cost twice as much when we come in one morning and the roof has caved in," said Commissioner Tom Bowman last Wednesday during a budget workshop.
Replacing the roof will cost about $206,500, while improvements to the annex building could run up to $61,000. The county did not fund any capital improvements last year.
The fiscal 2012 budget also eliminates four county jobs. One vacancy in the Land Use and Building Services Department will not be filled, and one of the county's two building inspectors will be let go, said Commissioner Angenie McCleary.
"I can't validate having two county building inspectors," she said last week. "I'm talking about reducing a position, but I think it's necessary."
The county will also reduce one position in the University of Idaho Blaine County Extension Office and one in the County Assessor's office. County Administrator Derek Voss' hours will be reduced from 40 to 32 hours a week.
By reducing staffing levels, the county is estimated to save about $250,000 in salaries and benefits.
After the tentative budget is set, expenses can be cut or shifted, but no new expenses can be added before the final budget is set in September.
The commissioners will convene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey and will set the tentative budget at 9:15 a.m.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com
Need to catch up on the county's budget process? See "To raise or not to raise?" and "Proposed county budget includes tax hike" for previous stories on the 2012 budget.