The state of Idaho will use federal coronavirus relief funds to cover the salaries of local public safety workers across the state, Gov. Brad Little announced Monday.

The move is an attempt to provide some property tax relief for Idahoans by lightening local governments’ budgetary load, the Governor’s Office stated. Addressing Idaho’s rising property taxes has been a priority for state leaders in recent years.

“Our focus is to support our communities and our police, fire and EMS personnel and ensure there are no reductions in public safety during these unprecedented challenges,” Little said in a statement. “I appreciate the cities and counties working with us to ensure the resulting budget savings are given back to the people of Idaho in the form of property tax relief rather than backfilling local government budgets.”

Idaho received $1.25 billion in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act. About $200 million of that funding will go toward covering local public safety salaries, the Governor’s Office said.

In Blaine County, it’s unclear how much the funding would help locally, County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said, as questions remain about which jobs might be covered. There’s also some confusion among Blaine commissioners about how exactly the funding will be distributed. The Governor’s Coronavirus Financial Committee will meet Wednesday to finalize the details of the program and the parameters for local governments to participate.

“I think it’s a fine idea,” Greenberg said. “But I think there are a lot of details that need to be worked out.”

The county budgeted $2,043,644 for Sheriff’s Office personnel salaries in fiscal 2020. The county has not yet finalized its budget for fiscal 2021.

Blaine County typically increases the property tax portion of its budget by about 3 percent—the legal maximum in Idaho without voter approval—each year. But doing so this year would make the county ineligible for the public safety funding program. How much the federal coronavirus funds help the county and local taxpayers will depend on how the county’s public safety payroll costs compare to what the 3 percent increase would be, Greenberg said.

In Bellevue, Mayor Ned Burns said Little’s announcement was well received.

“We welcome that decision by the governor,” Burns said. “Bellevue had a significant public safety expense during the outbreak, and it will be nice to be able to hopefully recoup some of those funds.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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