The Blaine County commissioners won't be able to put off tough budget decisions much longer, as a marathon budget workshop to resolve unanswered questions has been scheduled for Monday morning.
The commissioners established a tentative budget on Aug. 2, setting an upper expense limit of just over $26.4 million. They deferred until a later meeting decisions such as whether to grant wage increases, cut funding to the University of Idaho Blaine County Extension Office and take the full allowable property tax increase.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary has set the meeting for 9 a.m. to noon on Monday, Aug. 8.
County Clerk JoLynn Drage said the purpose of the tentative budget is to set a high level of expenses that would later be cut down.
"It includes everything they even talked about including in the budget," she said.
The county can cut expenses and shuffle funding from department to department after the tentative budget is set, but is prohibited from raising the total amount.
Therefore, projected budget numbers include at least $247,600 in expenses that the county hasn't yet decided whether to fund. Employee raises account for $185,000 of that amount, while the rest is made up of miscellaneous expenses for the Sheriff's Office and other agencies and $46,000 for a position in the University of Idaho Blaine County Extension Office.
Also at stake is whether the commissioners will fund outside agencies, and if so, which ones. County Commissioner Tom Bowman has stated repeatedly that he wishes to fund all outside organizations such as Mountain Rides, the Senior Connection and the Blaine County Housing Authority at the same levels as in fiscal 2011.
Funding would be cut next year, but Bowman said this solution would allow organizations time to find other funding sources.
Commissioner Larry Schoen, who vehemently opposed funding any outside agencies with the exception of the Blaine County Housing Authority, has fought him on this front.
The budget eventually was passed unanimously.
However, Drage said, the amount spent is likely to be less than final estimates.
"When you create these budgets, it's not a commitment to spend every penny," she said. "We never spend all of our expenditure budget."
Other issues up for discussion include reserve spending. Schoen, again, had expressed reluctance to spend any reserve funds, but Drage said the county has a comfortable cushion of $2.9 million in reserves.
"If our low point were to hit $2.2 million, we'd still have an adequate reserve," she said. "So if we spend $700,000 from reserves on a one-time expense, we could slowly build that back up."
McCleary said she planned the meeting in part to allow for more public input on the budget. Public comment will be encouraged at the Monday meeting at the Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.
For more on this year's county budget process, search "Wutz 2012 budget" on the Idaho Mountain Express website, www.mtexpress.com.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org