BLACKFOOT — The executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties told a group of southeast Idaho elected officials last week that Medicaid Expansion and property taxes will be the biggest external issues of the 2020 legislative session, and they should be prepared to give their input.
Seth Grigg was speaking in Blackfoot during the bi-annual meeting of 5th Commission District officials, hosted by the Bingham County Commissioners.
According to Grigg, the concern of the legislature will be how to fund Medicaid Expansion on a permanent basis.
Grigg said Medicaid Expansion begins in January, and Gov. Brad Little has committed the state to funding it the first year, but after that the counties are going to be asked to kick in some money and they need to start figuring out how they will do that with minimal financial impact on county taxpayers.
During the hour-long meeting attended by some 20 persons that included county clerks, treasurers, prosecutors and one sheriff — Bingham County’s Craig Rowland — Grigg advised the group to be transparent regarding their county’s finances — revenue and spending both — and to foster good relationships with their state legislators.
He said elected county officers are in the best position to update and keep their constituents as well as their legislators informed about taxing and financial issues.
Grigg said a working group with a “good balance” of legislators across the state has been formed to analyze growth that is increasing valuation in the counties and thereby the amount counties can increase their property taxes annually. The rate is currently three percent, he said, but historically has been as low as one percent and as high as five. He noted that counties in this area of the state have been conservative in their budgeting, while some others with a lot of growth have gone up as much as 10 percent because of new construction.
Grigg said there’s a large amount of residential growth across the state, and with an eye to what the legislature might do regarding property taxes, county officials need to make sure their legislators know the difference between the three percent cap and how much money they can get from new growth.
The three percent cap is the amount of dollars counties can raise from property taxes over the amount they raised the previous year.
Bingham County Commissioner Mark Bair noted that if the legislature puts a cap on residential property taxes, it only shifts the burden to agriculture and commerce.
Bannock County Commissioner Ernie Moser mentioned the mental health crisis centers and discussed the success theirs have had in providing assistance to families who are in crisis situations with loved ones, one of the services that is losing funding.
Bair said he’s concerned about what will happen to Idaho residents who don’t qualify for Medicaid and funding of services like the mental health crisis center in Idaho Falls, to which Bingham County has begun contributing because of the loss of state funds.
Bair added that he was astounded to learn that the City of Idaho Falls contributes nothing while it is the main beneficiary of the services the center provides. “They’re not giving a penny to the crisis center.”
Sheriff Rowland said the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, of which he is currently the chairman, is bringing a bill before the legislature this session to increase the driver’s license fee by $3 to help cover the costs to the counties of operating the license bureaus.
Bannock County Prosecutor Stephen Herzog said there has long been a need for forensic pathology services in this part of the state and that his county is working on getting funding to establish a forensic pathology lab at Idaho state University with a district pathologist.
Bingham County Clerk Pam Eckhardt and Jason Dixon from Bannock County brought up the new election software that’s been sent out to the counties. They stressed the need for clerks and staff responsible for conducting elections and processing ballots to learn to operate the software correctly and efficiently. Dixon said if it’s not used so that it performs correctly, voters will lose confidence in the system and wonder whether the results are accurate.
Commission District 5 is made up of elected officials from Bingham, Bannock, Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida and Power counties. They meet twice a year to discuss issues of mutual concern.