A decade ago, Ada County didn’t claim the maximum amount of taxes it could from property owners. On Tuesday, county commissioners voted to take at least some of that money back.
The money will go toward a new coroner’s office and a second driver’s license location. It will also support land acquisition by the sheriff’s office and fund part of a new jail pod. For property owners, it means a slightly higher tax bill.
To fund the projects, commissioners voted to take advantage of a state law that allows taxing entities to collect forgone tax money. Forgone tax money is money that a taxing entity, such as the county, can collect under state law but declines to in a certain tax year.
An entity is still entitled to that money by state law, however, and can collect it 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.
From 2006 to 2012, Ada County took less in property taxes than it was allotted. Previous Statesman reporting shows that represented about $19.4 million in property taxes, which it has clawed back in to the tune of $1.7 million in 2014 to balance the county budget and $4.27 million in 2015 to pay for a new 911 dispatch center.
The new clawbacks will equal about $4.5 million, less than the $5.5 million originally considered. That amount covers 10 percent of the total project cost of the new coroner’s office (worth $1,760,700), just over $500,000 for a second driver’s license office and $1 million for land acquisition by the sheriff’s office. It covers 10 percent of a new jail pod, down from the 15 percent requested.
For a person who owns a home of median value in Ada County, worth $340,000, the property tax bill will rise by less than $20, Commission Chairwoman Kendra Kenyon estimated during the meeting.
County officials, including Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens and Ada County Sheriff Stephen Bartlett, testified before the commissioners about the need for new offices and facilities. The current setup of the coroner’s office is out of room and often has to have sensitive conversations in the otherwise-public lobby, Owens testified. The jail, meanwhile, is “no longer adequate for the needs of Ada County,” Bartlett said.
Other employees of the county and some community members argued that Ada County should do better, even if that means a tax increase.
Not all members of the commission agreed on using clawbacks to help fund the projects. Each project was voted on individually, and each passed 2-1. Kenyon and Commissioner Diana Lachiondo voted to use clawback money, while Commissioner Rick Visser voted against it on each project except the driver’s license office, which he abstained from voting on.
Visser said he wasn’t against funding the projects but that he voted no “only because forgone money is being used” for the projects.
“I recognize a need and I support 100 percent,” Visser said. “I believe it can fit within our budget.”