Wednesday, August 13, 2014

County OKs $28M tentative budget

Total is little changed from this fiscal year

Express Staff Writer

     The Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a tentative fiscal year 2015 budget of about $28 million.

     A deficit of about $220,000 will be paid from the county’s $3.2 million in reserves.

     The full budget includes a $2.45 million Ambulance District budget and $2.6 million in the county’s Land, Water and Wildlife fund.

     Added to the budget since a proposed budget was passed in late July is $400,000 carried over from fiscal year 2014 to be spent next year on the Old County Courthouse roof project.  Also added was $50,000 to be placed in a fund toward buying technology to install Next Generation 911 in the county’s emergency dispatch system. The new technology would include automatic location of text messages and recording of photos sent from cell phones. The county has not decided whether it wants to upgrade its system.

     By state law, the tentative budget can be reduced, but not increased. A final budget must be set by Sept. 2.

     Commissioner Larry Schoen said he opposed the $50,000 dispatch addition, and the commissioners agreed that they will review it before Sept. 2.

     They also agreed to consider whether to reduce expenditures for Mountain Rides Transportation Authority and the Blaine County Housing Authority. The tentative budget includes $108,000 for Mountain Rides and $70,000 for the Housing Authority, both equal to fiscal year 2014 expenditures.

     The issue was prompted by Commissioner Jacob Greenberg, who pointed out that the commissioners had asked department heads for ideas to cut up to 10 percent from their department’s spending. He said the two agencies should do the same.

     Schoen said he opposed reducing the county’s contribution to the Housing Authority.

     “This agency operates on a shoestring budget as it is,” he said. “It becomes impossible to retain employees if you reduce their salaries below a certain level.”

     Greenberg agreed that the county needs to give priority to paying employees who do work required by state law.

     The tentative Ambulance District budget is about $170,000 higher than the fiscal year 2014 budget of $2.28 million. Local fire chiefs told the commissioners Tuesday that ambulance services are being more challenged every year, mainly by on-call employee “burnout” and increasing need for backcountry rescues.

     Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said calls to his department are up 9 percent to date over last year, and backcountry rescue calls “far surpass” those of structure fires.

     Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle reported a 4 percent increase in calls in 2013 and said that number will probably hold steady for this year. He said that last year the department responded to 16 backcountry rescues and five structure fires.

     Elle said his department is having more difficulty covering for employees when they do a “rendezvous” with the Stanley or Challis ambulance services.

     “About 50 percent of those patients are Blaine County residents who are up in the mountains playing and get hurt,” he said.

     Of the $2.45 million budget, about $1 million each will go to the Ketchum and Wood River ambulance services, and $72,000 to the Carey Quick Response Unit. About $267,000 will be spent on capital needs, including a new ambulance for Wood River.

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