County holds the line

Budget will fund open space, drug courts, more cops



Ada County's nearly $200 million proposed budget will include funds for open space, mental health courts and further expansion at the county landfill, pending hearings slated for August.

The county used a new process to set its budget that included an online survey of county residents.

"One of the things the public was telling us was that they wanted more trails, more open space," said Ada County Commission Chairman Fred Tilman.

So the tentative 2008-2009 county budget now includes $500,000 for open space preservation, money that comes from federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT funds.

Commissioner Paul Woods said that the half million dollars is a start, and that if the county decides to put more money toward open space preservation in the future, it may seek voter approval first.

Nearly $300,000 will go toward expanding Ada County's new drug and mental health court, a program that diverts drug offenders and the mentally ill away from jail time and into treatment. Also in the budget proposal are funds for 27 new positions in public safety, including the Sheriff's Office and the County Coroner.

Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre said that the county's "budgeting for outcomes" approach helped them prioritize.

"The proposed fiscal year '08-'09 budget only adds new positions to departments with mission-critical public service needs," Yzaguirre stated.

Sixteen new positions are also proposed for Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement, Health and Welfare, the Prosecutor's Office, the Public Defender, Motor Vehicles, Administrative Services and the Assessor's Appraisal Division.

Development Services, which had already suffered some layoffs, is slated for some of the largest cuts in next year's budget.

"It's a direct result of the decrease in demand from the construction side of the business," Tilman said.

But some of the jobs that Development Services performs—code enforcement and flood plain certification—will be funded with property tax dollars rather than fees.

While the overall county budget is shrinking, new construction ensures that tax revenues will continue to grow. Some large capital projects that the county has pursued for several years no longer need funding. The growth and completion of county buildings has allowed commissioners to forego an annual 3 percent bump in the county tax levy.

"We just spent 13 days listening to property tax appeal cases and believe me, we heard from the public ... people are hurting," Tilman said.

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