Friday, September 6, 2013

Road levy vote likely

Money would fund maintenance

Express Staff Writer

    Blaine County voters will likely decide in May whether to impose a two-year override levy on their property taxes to help fund road and bridge maintenance.
    According to the county Operations Department, its $2 million road and bridge budget needs to be almost doubled to place county roads on a desirable maintenance schedule. The level of maintenance has declined due to less state gas-tax revenue and less money from new subdivision “mitigation” fees. County law prohibits the use of general fund money for road and bridge expenses.
    At a meeting in July, county commissioners appeared to conclude that the best way to raise more money for the department would be through a temporary override levy.
    State law provides two types of permanent or temporary property-tax levies. One raises up to 0.2 percent of assessed market value and requires that half the money raised from property within cities be distributed to those cities. The second “special levy” raises up to 0.084 percent of market value and allows the county to keep all the money raised.
    County commissioners have sent letters to valley cities asking whether they would like to participate in a levy. During a meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Larry Schoen said he had received responses from Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle and Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch. Both said they supported the 50-50 share, though levying for the full 0.2 percent may be too high. Haemmerle also said a May vote might conflict with a potential sewer bond election in Hailey.

State law provides two types of permanent or temporary property-tax levies.

    In an interview, Haemmerle said a proposed bio-solids plant modification is the No. 1 priority for the city of Hailey, but increasing funding for county roads is “a close second.”
    “The problem is that the likelihood of passing any one of them goes down if you put more than one of them on the ballot,” he said.
    The issue was on the agenda for a Sun Valley City Council meeting Thursday.
    Under state law, to impose the levy for the fiscal 2015 budget, an election will need to be held on Nov. 11 or May 20. If an election is scheduled for November, ballot language would have to be drafted by Sept. 12. On Tuesday, the commissioners concluded that that would be too soon.
    “We would need to come to agreement on what that lower amount [less than 0.2 percent] would be,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said. “I think that would take a fair amount of time.”
    Commissioner Larry Schoen said he would continue to communicate with the valley’s mayors “to merge all these different interests into one strategic approach.”
    County Operations Director Char Nelson told the commissioners that without more funding, her department will run a $500,000 deficit in 2015 and be providing 20 to 25 percent fewer services.

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