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To fight inflation, Ada County raises property tax receipts, but property tax bills will not increase

Just like in the City of Boise, Ada County’s Board of Commissioners will be collecting more property taxes next year, but your bill will likely go down.

Yes, you read that correctly. It might seem like screwy math, but wading into the world of Idaho’s property tax system is never simple.

Last week, all three commissioners voted for a roughly $374,000 million budget to power Ada County in the upcoming fiscal year. This money will cover everything from weed and pest abatement, the court system, and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. In order to keep pace with rising costs for fuel, staffing, food, and utilities, commissioners opted to raise property tax collections by 2.3% and take in collections for new construction in the county for another $6.6 million in revenue.

By law, local governments in Idaho are only allowed to increase their property taxes by a maximum of 3%, bringing Ada County’s increase below the maximum they would be allowed to take. The board did not take property tax increases in the past two years.

But, property tax bills will still go down because residential property values fell in the past year. This time last year, the median price for a home in Ada County was $520,000. This year it’s down to $438,000, which means homeowners are paying a lower share of the tax burden than they were previously, pushing some of the burden back onto commercial property owners.

The drop in assessment value for homes netted a 12% drop in tax bills for residential property owners. It translates into a decrease of about $68 in the Ada County portion of an individual’s property tax bill. The average county portion last year was $560 compared to $492 this year. Plus, this number could go down even further once the impacts of the new property tax package passed by the Idaho Legislature go into effect.

Upon passing the budget, the commissioners were pleased with their ability to balance fiscal conservatism with providing services.

“When you’re a citizen and you look at governments raising their budgets, you think ‘man, if I got in there there’s probably some golden elephant sitting in somebody’s office and I can cut that out and save the county a bunch of money’, but that doesn’t really exist,” Republican Commissioner Ryan Davidson said. “You can find a couple of items here and there, but it’s a lot more complicated. A lot of it relates to how many employees you have and as the county grows it’s hard to get away with the fact that you need more employees to keep services consistent.”

What’s new in the budget?

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Going into the process, the commissioners wanted as few new unfunded positions as possible, a focus on reclassifying and raising pay in departments struggling with turnover, and boosts in operating costs to keep pace with inflation. Every employee also will receive a dollar-per-hour raise, plus a possible 3% merit raise depending on their work performance.

This has been the county’s tactic to raise pay in recent years in an attempt to stop its lowest-paid workers from leaving for higher-paid positions as housing prices rise throughout the region. As of now, every Ada County employee makes more than $16 an hour. But, Republican Commissioner Rod Beck said in the future the county can’t use this similar formula to give everyone raises because eventually pay scales will start to distort.

“This type of salary scheme can’t go on forever,” he said. “A couple of years (in a row) is okay, because we had some people on the lower end of the level who needed to be boosted up a bit and I think we’ve accomplished that, but I don’t think we can keep that plan going because then we get into this compression.”

The budget includes funds for 13 new positions but 10 of these will be funded from departments’ prior year allocations. These jobs include new permanent positions for election specialists in the Ada County Clerk’s office, which would end the cycle of hiring and training new temporary employees every election, a sex offender coordinator for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, and an investigator with the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office.

Other additions include two new 911 dispatchers and a new appraiser for the Ada County Assessor’s Office to address the rising number of parcels assigned to each employee as the county’s explosive growth continues.

County commissioners also opted to put $10 million away in the county’s master facilities plan account, which could go towards funding a new county administration building, the Ada County jail expansion, or other county buildings that need to be built or expanded later. They also approved a $900,000 contingency to cover overtime costs for when employees go on parental leave.

A fine-toothed comb

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The Ada County Commissioners did not easily say yes to every request made by their employees.

Over the course of a week, the commissioners heard lengthy presentations from every county department about their operations for the year and reviewed their budget requests in detail. They granted many of the budget requests, but they pared down some and turned down several position requests.

Ada County Sheriff Matt Clifford requested 14 new positions, with the bulk of them requiring new tax dollars. He asked for five 911 dispatchers, a second detective to work on criminal investigations inside the jail, a sergeant to oversee training, an IT project manager, and four deputies.

Commissioners gave him two of the 911 dispatcher positions, a sex offender coordinator to monitor the registry and maintain compliance with the law, and moved a part-time employee to full-time, but otherwise said no to all of his other asks.

Coroner Rich Riffle also got a thumbs down when he asked for a new unfunded administrative position to help with greeting visitors and handling the growing workload of administering the office’s work. Commissioners said they’d reconsider next year after the new office opens, which will be more open to visitors because it will have more space, but for now, they said no.

Davidson asked Riffle how much costs would have to be raised for other counties and Native American tribes to have their autopsies completed by Ada County to fund the position. Riffle said he understands the inclination to continue to hike these costs, but he is worried it would either stop these smaller jurisdictions from getting in-depth death investigations completed at all or would drive the business elsewhere.

Ada County handles roughly 200 out-of-county autopsies a year.

“I’m trying not to play hardball and say we’re the only game in town because eventually, they will find somebody else to do it,” Riffle said. “We can either take part of their money and offset their costs or we take none of their money and our costs stay the same.”

Commissioners pare down VRT request

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Like other local governments in the Treasure Valley, Ada County contributes to the operations of several community organizations and organizations that provide regional services.

This includes public transit agency Valley Regional Transit, which is largely funded by cities and counties it serves due to the state of Idaho allocating no funding to public transit. The City of Boise provides nearly all of the agency’s funding with a contribution topping more than $7 million each year.

In comparison, Ada County allocated $62,000 to VRT last year. For the upcoming cycle, the public transit agency requested an additional $81,000 for a total contribution of roughly $144,000. Instead, the commissioners opted to give them half of the increase they requested and they will fund VRT a total of around $103,000 next year.

Beck told BoiseDev in an interview the board would be open to giving VRT more funding, but first he wants to see improvements to the system’s “dismal” ridership. He hopes the system will invest more in a few routes that will be popular, instead of having a system that is more spread out but less effective.

“We asked them to instead of trying to be all things to all people, we asked them to figure out a few routes where you can do a good job on and fill up the bus two or three times a day,” he said. “That’s what we’re asking them to do is focus on.”

Commissioners also pared down a large increase request from the University of Idaho Extension to boost salaries at the office. This office supports farmers in Ada County, offers educational programming around agriculture, and runs 4H programming. Last year, Ada County gave the extension office roughly $372,000 and this year the office requested an increase of an additional $101,000.

Like VRT, the commissioners opted to halve their request and give them an additional $50,000. This brings the county’s total contribution to $422,000. Seventy-five thousand of this contribution comes from Expo Idaho funds, which are funded by the operations at the fairgrounds and the rest is from property taxes.

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