Friday, April 12, 2024

Assessor won’t administer solid waste fees

Staff Writer | April 2, 2024 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — After solid waste fees were not assessed for thousands of Kootenai County properties in 2023, assessor Béla Kovacs said administering the fees isn’t his office’s responsibility.

County officials convened Monday to discuss the recent discovery that the assessor’s office changed or removed solid waste fees from about 5,000 parcels last year. These represent potential lost revenue of up to $440,000.

“Many properties across Kootenai County were not billed for solid waste fees as in previous tax years,” Solid Waste Director John Phillips told commissioners.

Angela Burgeson, business and finance manager for Solid Waste, told commissioners Monday that she noticed the problem when reviewing the department’s revenue in preparation for budget season.

Solid waste fees collected from residential parcels have increased reliably each year as Kootenai County’s population grows. But in 2023, Burgeson said, the number dropped.

Affected property owners can expect to receive a bill for solid waste fees sometime after the June 20 property tax payment deadline. But how the county will handle solid waste fees in the future remains to be seen.

For at least 30 years, the assessor’s office has administered solid waste fees in Kootenai County. That office has identified residential users and exempted non-occupiable dwellings.

But in a March 28 email to commissioners and other county officials, Kovacs said his office won’t administer solid waste fees any longer because Solid Waste falls under the authority of the Board of County Commissioners.

“There is no statutory basis or requirement that I can find whereby an assessor is responsible for solid waste fees in Idaho,” Kovacs said in the email.

In most of Idaho’s 44 counties, the assessor administers solid waste fees. A few, such as Canyon County, collect solid waste fees at the landfill.

“These other counties have tipping fees for every load that comes across the gate,” Phillps said. “If you did that, you’d have to close (all the rural collection sites in Kootenai County) because otherwise, they’d be overrun.”

Commissioner Bruce Mattare said collecting fees on-site isn’t realistic.

“I think an initial suggestion that says we need to capture a tipping fee, a scale fee, at the transfer stations and not have a fee assessed throughout the county for property owners will lead to immense adverse consequences,” he said.

In an email sent March 29, Kovacs said an “old data problem” has caused solid waste fees to “disappear” from the county’s computer system since at least 2018. The “systemic” data problem is not on the assessor’s side, Kovacs said, but within the database used by the treasurer’s office. However, both offices use the same database.

Personnel from the treasurer’s office said there’s no evidence this problem has existed since 2018.

“It looks like (Kovacs is) trying to find an escape route in excusing the errors made by the assessor’s department,” said Kootenai County Treasurer Steve Matheson.

Kovacs did not attend Monday’s special meeting in person but called in halfway through the meeting.

“What I have tried to do is I have tried to help be a problem solver in trying to address this issue,” he said.

Mattare questioned whether Kovacs is a “problem solver” in county government.

“How many years are you going to have to be an assessor in this county until you understand how the process is supposed to go?” he asked Kovacs. “Because, quite frankly, I get tired of hearing this stuff from you. You’ve been here a long time. You should have the answers by now.”