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Kootenai County commissioners look to cut $7-$9 million to balance budget

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | June 6, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County commissioners took a first look Tuesday at the proposed budget for fiscal year 2025.

Total expenditures, including all requests and proposals from county government, total about $138 million. Commissioners will hammer out the budget, including any cuts, during six deliberation meetings between now and July 19.

A preliminary balanced budget will be presented Aug. 1 and a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Aug. 28. Commissioners are expected to adopt a final budget Aug. 30.

If commissioners levy 3% more property taxes, the maximum possible amount, they’ll need to cut $7.5 million from the budget in order to balance it. With no tax increase, commissioners will need to cut $9.3 million in order to balance the budget.

Personnel costs are expected to make up the vast majority of the county’s budget. Current personnel costs total $88 million, a figure that includes the cost of taxes and employee health insurance.

County HR director Sylvia Proud recommends a 3.5% cost of living adjustment for all county employees for FY2025, a $2.3 million increase overall.

Proud told commissioners Tuesday that her office based this recommendation off recent consumer price index data, which measure the cost of food, housing, fuel, utilities and other expenses. Other local and state agencies are proposing cost of living adjustments ranging from 3% and 3.5%, Proud said.

She added that Kootenai County should also consider that pension costs are expected to go up and health insurance costs will increase an estimated $1.1 million. It will be up to commissioners to decide how much of those increased insurance costs to pass on to employees.

“By providing the (cost of living adjustment), we’re trying to help employees maintain their buying power against inflation,” Proud told commissioners.

Step increases for eligible employees on their anniversary date will cost an additional $728,000. Going up a step can mean a pay increase of anywhere between 2% and 5%. A total of 174 county employees have reached the top of their pay matrix and are not eligible for more step increases.

County departments have made requests for 13 new positions, which would cost about $1.1 million to fund, as well as 33 requests for changes to existing positions. Those 33 changes would cost $593,000 in total.

New operating expense requests total $332,000 over the FY2024 amended budget, while new capital requests total $7.7 million. These include $4.2 million in capital requests for general government and $3.5 million for the Solid Waste Department.

No fee increases have been budgeted for community development or the DMV so far, though Commissioner Bruce Mattare said he believes the county should consider such increases.

“I definitely think we should be looking at that, because if we’re going to increase the overhead by default, we must increase the fees to help it achieve a self-sustaining factor,” Mattare said.