Blaine County will not participate in a state program that would pay for public safety salaries using federal coronavirus relief funds, the county commissioners decided Tuesday.

The commissioners voted unanimously not to opt into the program, which would have required the county to forgo its usual 3 percent increase of the property tax portion of the county budget next year.

“I don’t believe the state’s plan adequately addresses the true needs of our residents in our state of Idaho or in Blaine County,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said before the vote. “I don’t think this is the best we can do for our Blaine County residents.”

If the commissioners had decided to participate, the state would have put $2.8 million worth of the $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding it has received from the federal government toward covering public safety salaries in Blaine County.

The program has been characterized by the Governor’s Office as an attempt to provide some property tax relief to Idahoans; homeowners in Blaine County would have received a property tax credit if the county opted in. Relief would have amounted to about $31 per $100,000 worth of property, Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said.

“As far as receiving relief, I think everyone needs relief and this is the only option that was presented to us,” County Treasurer John David Davidson said at Tuesday’s meeting. “But I don’t like how a lot of renters aren’t seeing assistance.”

Those renters may be the people most in need of assistance, Commissioner Dick Fosbury noted.

“I think we could forgo participation in this program and continue to work to provide help to the people who need it the most,” Fosbury said. “[We could focus on] working-class people and keeping our schools safe and keeping people fed and in clothes and in homes through this coming winter.”

In a discussion last week, the commissioners and Davidson expressed some concern that the county could be responsible for paying back the $2.8 million if the federal government were to decide that the state’s program was not an acceptable use of CARES funding. The Governor’s Office has assured local governments that this will not happen, Davidson said, adding that he still had some concerns about the risk.

“That risk is not my highest factor in making this decision, but it’s certainly one,” McCleary said.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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