The Blaine County commissioners capped their months-long 2020 budget process Tuesday by unanimously approving a $31.5 million budget that includes aggressive spending to take aim at the county’s persistent housing crunch.  

Set to kick in on Oct. 1, the fiscal 2020 budget comes in about 4 percent higher than the current year’s $30.3 million expenditure, meaning it will finance some projects out of the 15 percent emergency reserve that the county typically built into the budget. Chief among them: a $500,000 cash commitment to back ARCH Community Housing Trust’s expanded plan to build 60 units of affordable housing—half earmarked for seniors—on county-owned property in downtown Hailey that once held Blaine Manor, a defunct nursing facility. The commissioners donated the land for the project, too, turning down a $1.6 million offer from a private developer, Chairman Jacob Greenberg said.  

“We’re managing to achieve one high-priority objective—addressing the housing needs of our seniors,” he said. “I think it’s a reasonable investment on behalf of the county. I don’t know how else we could accomplish it.

“I didn’t think we needed another Jiffy Lube or Taco Time, or the types of development that came with that [declined] offer.” 

The funding, as well as the land, is contingent on the ability of ARCH, a nonprofit affordable-housing developer, to win federal tax-credit financing from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association—far from a given. It’s a competitive process, and last year ARCH’s application to fund a 30-unit senior housing facility featuring 26 affordable apartments fell short. The organization asked for $794,533 per year in tax-credit financing—which could total close to $8 million over the 10 years during which recipients can claim credits. The expanded proposal aims to improve the project’s chances.  

The county’s contribution didn’t pass without protest. Mid-valley homeowner and 2020 commissioner candidate Kiki Tidwell questioned giving away county assets. 

“Giving $500,000 to a nongovernmental entity is not fiscally responsible,” said Tidwell, who is involved in a legal dispute with ARCH and Blaine County over a separate affordable-housing project. “It’s not sustainable for the county to give away $2.1 million of its asset base. You need to keep it and earn income off of it if you want to make your budgets in the future.”  

For the sitting commissioners, though, the opportunity to take a bite out of the housing shortage—and fulfill a perceived promise to valley seniors—was too good to pass up.  

“This is a good budget,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said. “We were able not only to meet our statutory responsibilities, but also provide high-quality county services, and advance policies that are important to this board.” 

Here’s a look at some of the other items new to the fiscal 2020 budget:

County staff will see a raise of 2 percent across the board, plus a 1 percent merit increase allocated to employees at the discretion of their department head. Each percentage point increase to salaries adds about $115,000 to the budget.

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will get a new position, plus some $30,000 for outside legal counsel. Last month, the board cited likely dealings with Idaho Power Co. and the Public Utilities Commission over a redundant transmission line and pending litigation with homeowners at Flying Heart Ranch over public access north of Hailey as potentially expensive eventualities.

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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