Blaine County voters on Tuesday narrowly defeated a proposed two-year property-tax levy of up to $5.24 million per year to pay for county and city road maintenance.
The $10.5 million levy was turned down by a vote of 1,061 to 1,170—48 percent in favor and 52 percent against.
The proposal was supported in only four of the county’s 16 voting precincts—Southwest Hailey, Northwest Woodside, Southeast Woodside and tiny Yale, where it won by a vote of 3-1.
It was most soundly defeated in the precincts of North Blaine County, Sun Valley, Quigley and Carey.
In both Ketchum precincts, the levy lost by a total of only five votes.
Two county commissioners interviewed by the Idaho Mountain Express said they were disappointed by the results but knew it would be close.
Commissioner Larry Schoen attributed the defeat to the high amount of the levy—$64.81 per $100,000 of taxable property value—and the fact that this primary election was of most interest to Republican voters, who tend to oppose tax increases.
“A big driver to the polls was tea party sentiment, embodied by the Otter-Fulcher race [for governor] and the Simpson-Smith race [for U.S. representative],” Schoen said.
The roads question was addressed by only about 19 percent of the county’s approximately 11,500 registered voters. The results mean that about 10 percent of county voters expressed opposition to the levy.
County Clerk JoLynn Drage said primary election turnout fluctuates considerably—from the low teens to about 30 percent.
Schoen said the commissioners will likely discuss the possibility of putting another levy before the voters in November or May 2015, perhaps at a lower amount and to not include partial distribution to the cities.
Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said a partial funding solution could be to increase the amount charged for motor-vehicle registration fees. Under state law, the county has the authority to double the fee upon approval by a majority of voters at a general election.
“I think the voters are more likely to approve that because it’s a user-based fee,” he said.
Greenberg said he hopes the Legislature will increase the state fuel taxes next year. He said he has contacted the other seven counties in the Idaho Association of Counties District 4 asking them to support a resolution to that effect.
However, none of those solutions would provide the county with additional funds until fiscal year 2016. For next year, the county will need to find a way to fund the 21 percent of its $2 million road and bridge budget that currently comes from reserves.
“We’re going to have to find that $400,000 to $500,000 somewhere just to fill the basic needs,” Greenberg said.
He said the commissioners will need to determine what duties other county departments are required to fulfill by state law, and then decide what to cut elsewhere. He said one likely source of cuts is requests from outside entities. Twenty nonprofit organizations and outside agencies are asking for a total of $536,000 from Blaine County taxpayers for fiscal 2015.
The use of property taxes for the Road and Bridge Department would also require repealing or amending a 2007 County Commission resolution prohibiting that use.
“It’s going to be a very interesting budget discussion,” Greenberg said. “[This issue] is not going to go away.”