Ada County’s proposed $231.4 million budget for 2016 is light on capital projects — just $7.5 million is dedicated to new projects, including $4.3 million for a 911 dispatch center, $575,000 for a jail security system, $1.3 million for IT equipment, and $1.1 million for Sheriff’s Office communication and reporting systems.
County departments submitted more than $120 million in capital project requests that did not get funded, ranging from $43 million for a public safety building to $216,000 to repair a one-mile section of damaged Greenbelt near Warms Springs Mesa.
Also on that unfunded wish list: a $3.3 million request from the county clerk for much-needed election voting and tabulation equipment.
Candidates, voters and reporters are all tired of the glacial experience of Ada County election results, which often are not completed until the next day. Ada County is tired, too. Earlier this year, the clerk’s office outlined plans to ditch its antiquated equipment (yes, it still uses Zip drive technology) and get a more reliable system in place by the 2016 presidential election.
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Unfortunately for election workers and voters, the request for the new equipment did not make the cut when a panel of county officials and employees reviewed and ranked all potential capital projects.
PUBLIC SAFETY TRUMPS VOTER CONVENIENCE
Ada County Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane said the election equipment “was considered a very high priority for the county,” but the need to for a new Emergency 911 Dispatch Center took precedent this year.
Also taking priority is replacing an unreliable jail security and management system that causes jail doors to open randomly and security cameras to go down, Clerk Chris Rich explained during the annual budget presentation Tuesday. “Priorities have to be made,” Rich said.
But Rich and his staff are not giving up just yet on that new election system.
The county clerk has about $700,000 in savings and a similar amount in federal grant money, which could pay for nearly half of the new system. “We are exploring what other options we may have to secure funding,” McGrane said.
The office does not have much time to wait. Next week it will put out a request for proposals for a new system. “Our hope is we can figure out something for the funding by the time we complete that process,” McGrane said.
NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET
The county is proposing $231.4 million for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, 9 percent less than this year’s $255 million budget. Even though the budget is decreasing, property taxes are going up because the county plans to collect $10.2 million more than it did last year. Some of the additional revenue will go to capital spending, a 2 percent pay increase for the county’s 1,780 employees at a cost of $2 million, and $1.2 million to replace aging computer systems.
Last year’s budget was an anomaly because it included $37 million the county pulled from a savings account to pay off the courthouse bonds. Paying them early will save the county $6 million because it will no longer lease the building from Boise’s urban renewal agency. Take that one-time expenditure out of the equation and next year’s budget is a 6 percent increase over this year’s.
So how much will your taxes go up? That depends on how much your home’s value increased this year.
Last year’s county property tax levy rate was $302 per $100,000 taxable value. Next year’s proposed levy rate is $311. When you factor in this year’s median home value increase of $12,100, to $189,700, and an increase in the homeowners exemption, the county’s collection on a median value home will increase $28.35. The cities and other taxing districts are still setting their budgets and levy rates, which also will affect property tax bills.
To make ends meet next year, in addition to collecting the full amount of property tax allowed under state law, the county will take an additional $4.27 million in foregone property taxes.
WHAT ARE FOREGONE PROPERTY TAXES?
State law allows counties, cities and other taxing districts to increase their budget by 3 percent a year, plus the property taxes collected on the value of new construction.
Taxing districts can choose not to collect the full amount, which is then considered “foregone.” But that doesn’t mean it cannot be collected at a later date. Under state law, this uncollected revenue can accrue with no limits or expiration. Each year, while setting its budget, a taxing district with foregone taxes can choose to collect some or all of that revenue (as long as the increased tax collection does not exceed the maximum tax levy rate set by state law).
For seven years, between 2006 and 2012, the Ada County commissioners chose not to take the full 3 percent budget increase allowed under state law, leaving a total of $19.4 million on the table. At the time, the county said it wanted to provide taxpayers property tax relief and wanted to build budgets that rely less and less on property taxes.
This year, the county started drawing from its foregone taxes stockpile to balance its budget, collecting $1.7 million. If the county takes $4.27 million next year, it still will have about $13 million in uncollected property taxes.