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Friday, July 30, 2004


County eyes $22 million budget

Half million extra set aside for Johnson trial

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioners are scheduled to take a vote next week on a proposed $22 million budget for the 2004-2005 fiscal year.

The proposed budget will include money for renovating the Old County Courthouse, extra money for trying and defending the Sarah Johnson murder case and a fund for eventual construction of a new county jail.

The public hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2.

Over the past three weeks, commissioners have met with the county’s various department leaders to accept operational budget proposals for the fiscal year blueprint. Though informal, those meetings served as a jumping off point for the official budget presentation scheduled Monday.

According to Blaine County Clerk Marsha Reimann, the overall budget is still in flux. Following the preliminary adoption on Monday, the budget will be published in the Idaho Mountain Express for two weeks. Final budget approval is scheduled for Sept. 7.

Included in the budget is about $4.9 million the county has stashed away for a rainy day. The unreserved cash set aside in the county’s general fund amounted to about $8.1 million in the 2003 fiscal year, but commissioners used that money last year to pay for the new courthouse annex building, which opened just this summer.

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael said she and her colleagues have set $2 million of the fund aside in a capital reserve this year for a new county jail.

The $8.1 million showed up in the 2003 Blaine County audit, but it is difficult to track in the annual budgets. It appears to have accumulated by a process of over-budgeting and under-spending over a period of years.

"We always spend less than we think, which is good," Michael said. "Our revenues from grants and other sources have been very positive. That’s why we’ve been able to save money."

Aside from capital expenses, the fund has practical uses. The county uses the money to help get through the lean time between budget adoption in September and the arrival of tax money in December.

"We know we’re in the black, and we may have to build a savings account in order to build a new jail, which we’re starting this year," Michael said. "We need to save the money and then look at the payment options."

Reimann said the budget includes $558,000 for construction and renovations of the basement and first floors of the Old County Courthouse. The Blaine County Prosecutor will move into the basement, and the Blaine County Clerk will take over the entire first floor, Reimann said.

The budget also includes an additional $600,000 to prosecute and defend a high profile double murder case, which is scheduled for Feb. 1.

Of that amount, $350,000 is earmarked for the county’s public defender program. The county’s emergency contingency account was boosted from $220,000 to $350,000. An extra $150,000 was budgeted for the Blaine County Prosecutor’s Office. A line item for jury meals and lodging was boosted from $1,500 to $5,000.

"We hope it’s enough," Reimann said.


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