Boise & Garden City

Ada County didn’t collect all the taxes it could for years. Now it may claw some back.

The Ada County Jail is above capacity. Waits at the driver’s license office can stretch into hours. The coroner’s office is running out of space.

Ada County’s growth is causing big problems. To help solve them, county commissioners are looking at a big solution: collecting more than $5.5 million in forgone property tax money.

Forgone tax money is money that a government taxing entity, such as the county, can collect under state law but declines to in a certain tax year. It can go back and collect the money later, known as a clawback.

A 1995 state law allows taxing districts to increase their property tax collections up to 3 percent per year, plus property taxes for annexations or new buildings built within the past year. Increases higher than that require voter approval.

In Ada County, the commissioners chose not to take the full amount of taxes from 2006 to 2012, forgoing about $19.4 million in property taxes, said Chelsea Carattini, spokeswoman for the Ada County Clerk’s Office. The county kept growing, however, and the demand on resources grew “even though taxes did not,” she told the Statesman in a telephone interview.

The result is fewer resources than perhaps necessary to fund services such as the coroner’s office, she said.

“If you keep kicking these projects down the line, it costs the taxpayer more in the end,” Carattini said.

How would this clawback affect your pocketbook? In Ada County, the median home value is about $340,000. The forgone taxes would increase that tax bill by about $24, Carattini said.

She also said there is no limit to how far back a government could reach to collect forgone taxes. Ada County clawed back $1.7 million in 2014 to balance its budget and $4.27 million to pay for a new 911 dispatch center in 2015, according to previous Statesman reporting.

If collected this time, the revenue would go toward the design cost associated with a new coroner’s office and a new jail pod for the Ada County sheriff. It would also go to buy property for expansion of the Ada County Jail and public safety facilities.

“With Idaho Department of Correction inmates accounting for as much as 20% of our population every day, we are maxed out for bed space,” Sheriff Stephen Bartlett said in a news release. “Our inmate-staffed kitchen and laundry are at the absolute limit for what they can manage each day.”

The clawback also would support a second driver’s license location for the Sheriff’s Office. There is only one driver’s license location in Ada County right now, on Benjamin Lane in Boise. A new one should go in Meridian or elsewhere in West Ada County, Bartlett said Monday in another news release.

The county commissioners will hold a hearing on Tuesday, July 9, on the taxes. They will hear testimony from the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices and the public.

The hearing will be at 6 p.m. in the Public Room of the Ada County Courthouse.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.