Jefferson County Commissioners have officially approved the county budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Commissioners also opened the 2019 budget to approve additional expenses. Here are some of the highlights:

Opening the 2019 budget

The commissioners voted to open the 2019 county budget due to the county spending about $22,000 more than budgeted in two areas. Commissioner Scott Hancock said the county has received revenue to match those expenditures.

“It’s not like it’s something we didn’t receive funding for,” Hancock said.

However, he said the county still had to open the budget whenever expenditures were higher than budgeted. Under emergency management, the county went over by $4,000 for wages. Under the weed department, the number over was $17,000 for a sage grouse habitat project.

Full-time DMV employees

Up until now, the Division of Motor Vehicles in Jefferson County has had part-time employees. For 2020, commissioners have approved the move to full-time staff. Commissioner Scott Hancock has said the DMV typically is busy with long lines. As the county continues to grow, Hancock said he does not see the workload decreasing. A full-time staff would help move those lines along more quickly.

Prosecutor gets funding for additional attorney

Commissioners officially approved $66,000 for an additional deputy prosecuting attorney. County prosecutor Paul Butikofer has said an additional attorney is needed as the county continues to grow.

The topic of adding another attorney has been controversial, with a few members of the public saying there needed to be more evidence an attorney was needed. Representatives of local advocacy groups have testified in favor of the attorney.

Kimber Tower of Upper Valley Child Advocacy Center reiterated her support for the additional attorney at the budget hearing.

Ward Whitmore, who has questioned the hiring of another attorney, said he hoped commissioners had the evidence needed to make an informed decision — namely case load by attorney.

“If you don’t have that, then you still don’t have the information to make an informed decision,” Whitmore said.

When Whitmore finished his comments, Hancock said Butikofer had received the total case load numbers from the Supreme Court, though those numbers did not break case loads down by attorney.

Money for P&Z legal advisor moved under prosecutor

After much discussion, commissioners decided to move the money previously used for planning and zoning attorney Paul Ziel’s wages under the county prosecuting attorney’s budget. Around $45,000 was moved from planning and zoning to the prosecuting attorney’s office. Commissioner Scott Hancock said the move was made in order to be in compliance with Idaho law.

Prosecutor Paul Butikofer said he was at training in Boise when he learned about an attorney general’s opinion regarding county prosecutors. The opinion states “County commissioners do not have the authority to hire civil counsel outside of the county prosecutor’s office on a long-term or continuous basis unless they comply with Idaho’s constitutionally mandated standard of ‘necessity.’” Butikofer said that meant Ziel could not legally be kept within planning and zoning’s budget. The full Attorney General Opinion No. 93-8 can be found at https://www.ag.idaho.gov.

Kevin Hathaway, the planning and zoning administrator, expressed concern about moving the money for Ziel’s assistance under the prosecutor’s office.

“If you’re talking about Paul Ziel getting paid by the prosecutor’s office, but maintaining the same level of hours and commitment, and assigned to planning and zoning directly — so we don’t have to worry if there’s somebody available, or if he’s going to get pulled off for another thing — then I don’t have a lot of heartburn for that,” Hathaway said. “Where I get heartburn is when you try to meld a position into a combination and he does planning and zoning and gets diverted to other things.”

Commissioner Scott Hancock said it was not the commissioners’ intentions to take resources away from planning and zoning. He said they agreed Paul Ziel had significant experience and was an asset to the county.

“No one wants to take legal assistance away from planning and zoning,” Hancock said. “What we as commissioners are doing is trying to be in compliance with current state code.”

Clark said the commissioners had never said or indicated they would take Ziel away from planning and zoning. Hathaway said he was still “very concerned.” He said he felt he could justify that legal counsel was a necessity and “not a simple want or convenience.” Hathaway said he did not think moving Ziel under the prosecutor’s office would be necessary.

“He’s not going to court for us, and so because of that you can treat him like any other employee,” Hathaway said.

Hancock said that did not match the attorney general’s opinion. Young said his understanding of state code was that Ziel would need to be deputized to give legal counsel. County attorney Weston Davis said that was correct.

“When it looks like this is going to continue and this becomes a job position, the state code is clear that then that rests with the prosecuting attorney,” Davis said.

When asked what his thoughts were, Ziel said he felt they needed to follow Butikofer’s advice. He said he felt encouraged by what the commissioners were saying.

“I appreciate you guys are recognizing that he really does have a substantial need,” Ziel said.

Ziel said he had interpreted the AG’s opinion the same way as Butikofer, but had heard from another attorney that that interpretation was conservative. Ziel said he would like to continue to offer his expertise to planning and zoning, and said he would be willing to be deputized after some details are worked out.

Road and bridge grant

As of the final budget hearing, the county was still waiting to hear back from the Economic Development Administration on a $3.5 million grant for the Kettle Butte Dairy and Jerome Resources Road Project in Roberts.

“If we do not get the funding, it won’t be done, plain and simple,” Hancock said.

The commissioners and county clerk elected to leave it in the budget for if the grant does come through, making the total road and bridge budget $7.5 million.

Jail upgrades

Early in the budget process County Sheriff Steve Anderson said he wanted to budget for a K-9 officer and multiple additional vehicles to replace older ones. However, later, it was determined a jail upgrade would be needed within the next year.

Anderson said instead of adding another $200,000 to his budget, he would rather forgo the K-9 officer and everthing that came with it — $56,000 total — and reallocate $120,000 previously slated for new vehicles to pay for the jail upgrade. With $35,000 in capital upgrades, $210,000 could go to upgrades. Anderson said he expects the upgrade will cost around $200,000.

Salary and wage increases

All county employees and nearly all elected officials received wage or salary increases this budget season. This is the second year the county has used the step-and-grade process, which automatically determines how much employee salaries and wages should increase by. As employees continue working for the county and move through the step-and-grade system, they will receive more pay. In addition to step and grade, employees also received a 2% cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase.

Elected officials, on the other hand, are not part of the step-and-grade process, and are not guaranteed a pay increase every year. This year, most elected officials received about a 5% increase, with that 5% including COLA.

Indigent fund

The amount of money budgeted in the indigent fund was about the same as last year. However, Commissioner Scott Hancock said at this point it is unclear how Medicaid expansion in Idaho, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, will impact how much is needed for the fund.

“One of the proposals that they’re saying in Boise, is counties pick up and pay a big chunk of the cost of that,” Hancock said. “If they do … it could cost our county as much as $180,000 more than what we currently have budgeted.”

Sheriff Steve Anderson chimed in and said the county would also not need to pay as much for inmate medical expenses when those inmates could not pay for their own expenses.

“It will offset some of that cost,” Anderson said.