Bonner County to adopt $56M budget

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SANDPOINT - Bonner County commissioners are tracking toward the adoption of an austere budget that contains no pay raises, a limited reliance on property taxes and fewer people on the payroll.

"This has been the most horrendous budget session I have ever been through," said county Clerk Marie Scott, who has been in elected office since the early 1990s.

Scott and county commissioners hosted two hearings Monday to gather input on the $56 million spending plan, but department heads outnumbered members of the public and few offered any testimony.

County officials adopted a resolution earlier this month authorized a reduction in force in light of declining revenues and increasing costs.

The county identified 11 positions which could cease to exist, but declined to say which departments they involve.

"We're not going to go into it," Commission Chairman Joe Young said. "They will hear about it at the appropriate times by their department heads."

County policy prohibits public discussion of personnel matters.

Of the 11 positions in the crosshairs, four will cease to exist by Sept. 30. Four currently vacant positions will not be filled unless additional funding materializes. Three more positions are being funded in the 2011 budget with carry-over from the previous budget, but after that they will be cut unless commissioners agree to fund them with tax dollars.

Commissioners emphasized that they did not take the layoffs lightly.

The board could have automatically increased the budget by the statutorily allowed 3 percent, which amounted to nearly $1.3 million. However, the board took just $592,517 in an attempt to ease the burden on landowners.

The commission took all the tax revenue from new construction - $364,542 - but decided to take none of the "forgone amount," money which it left on the table during last year's budget discussion. That sum amounted to $313,014.

A 1-percent across-the-board cut to all departments' expenditures was also implemented.

The board is also moving toward the adoption of a $2.9 million budget for the county's ambulance taxing district. It also contained no pay raises, but did increase the budget authority for infrastructure to keep up the level of service and response times.

Jack Lensing, chairman of the Sagle Fire District's board of commissioners, urged the county to reconsider its denial of an $18,000 increase in its existing $170,000 annual EMS contract to cover increased labor costs.

"We are funding, at a deficit, the responders on the south side of the bridge," said Lensing, pointing out that the county is effectively getting two responders for the price of one in Sagle.

Lensing also warned that the funding impasse could jeopardize its agreement with the county.

"We're teetering on dangerous territory here," Lensing said.

County commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget on Wednesday.

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