The Blaine County Commissioners have tentatively approved a county budget for fiscal year 2021, a year clouded with economic uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The draft budget has been set at $30,562,689, aligning with the recommendation of County Clerk JoLynn Drage, the board’s budget officer. If finalized, that would mean a roughly 3 percent decrease in budgeted spending from the previous year’s $31.5 million budget.

Municipalities and districts across the Wood River Valley have found themselves forced to budget conservatively this year in anticipation of the economic impact of COVID-19, the full extent of which remains to be seen. Idaho businesses have largely reopened their doors, but local and state officials anticipate that the effects of the pandemic on the economy will likely be felt for months or even years.

The Road and Bridge department took a significant hit in funding this year, with commissioners budgeting about $2.7 million in road and bridge spending. The department had requested about $3 million, roughly the same amount that was budgeted in FY 2020.

Consolidated emergency communications spending was reduced from $1.48 million to $1.39 million, a nearly $100,000 decrease. Commissioners cut jail funding by roughly $80,000, granting the jail $3.23 million in FY 2021 versus $3.31 million in 2020. The county is set to spend about $50,000 less on administrative services than it did last year, and $35,000 less on indigent spending.

Other departments took smaller hits: Waterways saw its funding decrease by about $4,100; about $14,700 was shaved off the budget for Land, Water and Wildlife. Funding for the county commissioners themselves was trimmed by just over $8,000.

Even with the cuts, funding the budgeted road and bridge, waterways, and consolidated emergency communications expenses will mean dipping into $554,080 of the county’s reserves.

Other departments’ budgets, meanwhile, remained largely the same or increased from FY 2020. The budget for the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office went from $3.46 million to $3.52 million, and the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is slated to receive about $1.25 million this upcoming year, compared to the current year’s $1.2 million.

The coroner’s office is on track to receive about $163,000, roughly the same amount as the previous year.

In a pandemic, some smaller budget items have taken on new significance, as Commissioner Angenie McCleary noted Tuesday. The Crisis Hotline in Hailey, for instance, has asked for $10,000 in county funding and received $5,000 in previous years. This year, commissioners agreed that $10,000 in funding was warranted, as the hotline has expanded its services and experienced a spike in calls during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotline received 52 calls in April 2019, McCleary said; this past April, it received 163 calls.

One of the largest increases could come from the Ambulance District’s budget, which is not included in the $30.5 million draft county budget. The county budget officer has recommended budgeting $3.3 million in spending for the Ambulance District, an increase from last year’s $2.9 million but less than the $3.5 million that was requested.

The commissioners, who also operate as the board of the Ambulance District, will consider the Ambulance District’s budget at their regular meeting next Tuesday.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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