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Kovacs seeks reversal of commissioners' decision

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | October 2, 2022 7:12 PM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County Assessor Bela Kovacs has filed a court appeal seeking to restore his salary that commissioners cut in half in August.

A petition for judicial review was filed last week in district court. It alleges that Commissioners Bill Brooks, Chris Fillios and Leslie Duncan exceeded their authority when they made the “unprecedented” decision to slash Kovacs’ pay. He alleges that, in doing so, commissioners have impeded his ability to perform the duties of his office.

Effective Oct. 1, Kovacs’ salary dropped from about $90,000 per year to $45,000 per year.

Commissioners voted unanimously to cut the assessor’s pay during a public hearing where they also voted to approve a $120 million budget for fiscal year 2023. Included in the budget was a 6% cost of living adjustment for all county employees and elected officials, except for Kovacs.

Under Idaho law, it is the duty of each county’s board of commissioners to fix the annual salaries of county officers through the budget process.

In a Sept. 1 email included with the court filing, Kovacs said other county elected officials gave him the choice ahead of the budget meeting to resign or receive a substantially reduced salary.

Commissioner Chris Fillios said that county employees and other elected officials have approached the board with “grave concerns” about Kovacs’ performance.

“(Kovacs) has demonstrated an inability to fulfill the role of assessor,” Fillios said during the August meeting.

Commissioners had discussed with Kovacs his failure to perform statutory duties, Fillios said, but Kovacs has “refused” to take any responsibility for his performance.

He pointed to Idaho Code 31-802, which provides that county commissioners are “to supervise the official conduct of all county officers” and see that they “faithfully perform their duties.”

Kovacs asserts that the code does not empower the board to cut his salary in half.

In his petition, Kovacs placed blame the county commissioners and the county IT department for state deadlines missed by his office that temporarily left Kootenai County taxing districts unable to finalize their budgets.

After more than 700 Kootenai County property owners appealed their 2022 value assessments, the state granted an extension for the Board of Equalization to address the numerous appeals.

Kovacs said in a memorandum issued July 22 that the deadline had to be extended another week because of a processing error in his office.

He ultimately delivered the 2022 property values to the Auditor’s Office more than a month late, with a disclaimer that “there appears to be an imbalance on this roll.”

Kovacs has asked the court to reinstate his salary with the cost of living adjustment, in the amount of $95,811.24, as well as for an award of costs and attorney’s fees.

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