A mainstay in the Idaho Legislature and a new face hope to win voters’ approval for the open seat on the Ada County Commission.
This fall, voters will choose between former Republican Senate Majority Leader Rod Beck and newcomer Bill Rutherford, a Democrat. Both candidates hope to reduce the burden of property taxes on residents in Ada County, but take slightly different approaches to how to keep costs down.
Rutherford, a retired Army Captain and civil engineer, said he wants to use his professional background in managing agencies and projects with well over 5,000 employees to make Ada County run more efficiently. He said he supports the county trying to slow down on growth where it would overtax services and make them more expensive to provide, as well as impact fees on developers so they pay their “fair share” of services instead of only hiking property taxes.
“Many people are out of work,” he said. “I think this virus is disproportionately people on lower income scales. We have a much higher demand at the food banks, we have a lot of homeless people. I think it’s incumbent on us to cut our costs and look at what is really necessary versus what is nice to have.”
After Rutherford left the Army, he worked as a construction manager in the private sector, and later became the chief planner for a power station outside of Pittsburg with thousands of employees. Rutherford also worked at the Department of Energy in Hanford, Washington, where he worked on planning nuclear waste cleanup. He said he has experience managing budgets nearing $500 million annually and was nationally recognized for reducing government costs three times while working at the Department of Energy.
Rutherford ran against Sen. Chuck Winder in 2016.
For Ada Co. Commission races, all Ada county residents can vote in any of the commissioner races. District two includes the northwest portion of the county, including Eagle and a large swath of Meridian. The district is highlighted in maroon on the map above.
The property tax question
Beck agrees with Rutherford about the need to cut property taxes, and hopes to see the county cut its budget. He did not provide detailed specifics on where he would cut, but hopes the county can adopt a budgeting practice of assuming no tax growth every year, and only increase if absolutely necessary.
“It’s not one thing, it’s a lot of little things,” Beck said, about what he would like to reduced in the Ada County budget.
He said he supported House Majority Mike Moyle’s failed proposal in the 2020 legislative session to freeze property tax increases for a year to incentivize local governments to work with the state on reforming the property tax system.
Beck served in the Idaho State Senate from 1985 through 1990, and again from 1994 to 1995. He is a former regional party chair for the Idaho Republican Party, and chaired Donald Trump’s Idaho campaign in 2016. He recently appeared at a potluck hosted by People’s Rights, a group associated by Ammon Bundy, according to a video shot at the event posted on proudandfreeidaho.com. He currently works in real estate.
In a follow up interview, Beck said he was not aware People’s Rights was associated with Ammon Bundy and he did not see him in attendance.
“I was also invited to speak with the Idaho Statesman, so does that make me linked to the Statesman?” he said, about his appearance at the People’s Rights event.
Influence of the state legislature
When asked about Ada County’s long list of capital projects due to the growth, Beck said he was not sure a jail expansion was necessary. He said the issue with overcrowding the facility is “somewhat resolved” because during the COVID-19 pandemic the county worked to reduce the population so inmates had more room to socially distance.
But in the long term, he said he would like to use his experience at the legislature to negotiate for fewer state prisoners held there.
“If we could get the state to fulfill their responsibilities there might not be a requirement for a jail expansion,” he said. “It’s really an unfortunate circumstance that they aren’t. They need to take care of their own prisoners and not require us to take care of them.”
Rutherford said Ada County should work on reducing property tax burden, but he said the reason taxes are increasing is often due to legislation passed at the state level instead of the actions of the county. As an example, he said the state legislature funding schools at a low level causes districts to have to pass supplemental property tax levies, like in the West Ada School District.
“I think Ada County should be speaking up about these things,” he said. “Because in the end, the public gets to vote and the more they know about the cause and effect of legislation the better they will be able to make decisions.”