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Ada County, flush with cash, considering property tax cut

A year ago, Ada County officials were battening down the hatches in anticipation of the pandemic taking a recession-sized bite out of the budget.

It wasn’t to be.

Idaho’s record-breaking boom through the pandemic and beyond paid dividends for Ada County, gifting it with an unexpected budget surplus. This leaves the County Commissioners with enough room to fully fund their departments’ requests, pay for some capital projects, and give their employees an across-the-board pay boost, all while cutting taxes for the first time in years.

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Money, money money

On Wednesday, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane pitched his sunny budget to the Commissioners with gusto. He is a Republican candidate for Idaho Secretary of State in 2022.

“We predicted an (economic) downturn and instead we saw an uptick,” McGrane said. “We went the opposite, which is a good problem, so our revenues are better than we imagined. If there is one of the biggest blessings we have for this year’s budget, it’s that.”

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The unexpected sunny day in the county’s budget is the result of the county budgeting extremely conservatively during the pandemic in expectation of a downturn, plus large boosts to several revenue categories. Ada County saw an additional $10 million in sales tax revenue from the state, on top of increases to other categories, like liquor sales tax.

This boost in extra sales tax revenue allowed the county to absorb the extra costs of Governor Brad Little’s 2020 property tax relief program expiring without extra costs to the taxpayers and take an $8 million tax cut. The initial budget proposal from McGrane does not include taking the tax increases to accommodate new construction or the 3% annual increase allowed under state code.

A little break, but not a tax reduction

This will save a home valued at $400,000 with the homeowner’s exemption of $29.50 on their property tax bill.That’s not to say your total tax bill will likely go down, though. It just won’t increase as much.

[Explain This to Me: How 2016 legislation shifted property tax burden from commercial land to homeowners]

Residential property assessments shot up in value 26% last year, far outpacing the 11% growth from commercial properties. This shift in the tax burden means homeowners shouldered more of the burden of property taxes than their commercial counterparts and hiking bills, even when counties and cities cut taxes or hold them flat.

Over the course of two weeks in June, the commissioners will hear presentations on departments specific requests in detail and deliberate exactly what should and shouldn’t, go into the final budget. Items up for potential discussion to watch include funding for New Path Community Housing and an upgraded home for the county’s drug court program.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Ada County could discuss the first lease payment for the coroner’s facility in Meridian. The first payment was made in August.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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