The Blaine County commissioners passed a tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Tuesday, moving closer to a plan that would pull from reserves to pay for programs.
The $31.5 million package is about 4 percent higher than the current year’s $30.3 million expected spending, meaning it will dip deeper into emergency funds to finance projects than past iterations.
After weeks of winnowing, the commissioners felt comfortable with tapping the 15 percent of the budget used for what Drage called “unpredictable, uncontrollable emergencies.” That policy was set by a previous board, and recent commissioners have opted not to touch it.
This time, though, they opted to put some of that money toward the county’s most pressing problem: housing. The tentative budget includes a $500,000 cash commitment to back ARCH Community Housing Trust’s expanded plan for a pair of 30-unit affordable housing developments on the site in Hailey that once held Blaine Manor. The commissioners had also donated the land for the project. Commissioner Jacob Greenberg previously told the Idaho Mountain Express that the board valued the site at about $2 million.
Depending on how the fiscal year wraps up, the county may also be able to replenish the reserve out of retained savings, Greenberg said.
“Our 15 percent is a healthy reserve, and I think it will still be intact at the end of this year,” he told the board Tuesday. “Housing is one of our priorities, and we have an opportunity to make a significant dent in that. I think we’re making an investment, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
This week, the commissioners opted to prepare for additional legal services that may arise in the next year, funding a new position in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and adding some $30,000 for outside legal counsel. The board cited likely dealings with Idaho Power 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.
County staff will also see a raise: 2 percent across the board, plus a 1 percent merit increase allocated to employees at the discretion of their department head. Each percentage point added to salaries translates to around a $115,000 budget increase.
In accordance with state law, this year’s draft must be published no later than Aug. 13 and set by Sept. 3.
“We’re already talking about what this is going to look like next year, and preparing for it,” Greenberg said. “So, know that we’re actively on it.”