The Ada County Highway District is considering clawing back some foregone tax revenue, but not as much as originally proposed.
On Wednesday, the commission met in a work session to discuss its FY 2022 budget proposal. The group worked to iron out if it would increase property taxes, and how much. ACHD staff proposed a budget that would take $10 million in foregone taxes, which would increase the agency’s budget covered by property taxes by 24%. Foregone taxes allow a taxing entity to take a tax increase it decided to pass on in previous years.
Discussions are still ongoing, but after an hours-long discussion, the commissioners were leaning toward advertising a budget that includes taking a 3% property tax increase and up to $7.5 million in foregone or an 18% increase to the portion of the agency’s budget funded by property taxes. This is not the final amount of tax increase the commissioners will take. It only sets the top end of what they can request.
A final decision on the budget will come in August after a public hearing.
Goldthorpe slams accusations of partisanship
Commission President Kent Goldthorpe started the discussion by condemning comments on social media accusing the commissioners of playing partisan politics with the budget and misinformation about the amount of the tax increase. He noted taking the $10 million in foregone would increase the agency’s budget by 24%, not each individual’s tax bill.
“What happened after that information went out and a few hours’ worth of conversations with people who received that information all of a sudden misinformation was distributed to the public that we were raising their entire property tax bill by 24%,” he said. “Absolutely crazy. And to make matters worse, it became partisan politics in the last couple of days. That is disgusting.”
ACHD Director Bruce Wong kicked off the presentation with some research his staff completed into how much taking the $10 million in foregone would impact the average home, telling the commissioners the increase proposed by staff would be “negligible.” He said if ACHD took the full foregone amount, a home in Meridian valued at $446,000 would see a tax increase from $171.53 to $223.97 for ACHD’s slice of their bill. That’s a difference of $52.44
But, commissioners were not swayed to take the full $10 million.
Commissioner Mary May was especially opposed to it, spending a large chunk of the meeting trading remarks back and forth with Goldthorpe about if the decision to go for the full amount was a done deal. She alleged that commissioners and staff had agreed behind closed doors to take that amount, and there was no specific reason for the full increase on taxpayers, aside from concerns the state legislature would eliminate foregone taxes as an option in the upcoming session.
“I have heard people in this room say (we’re taking the foregone taxes) ‘because we can, and if we don’t take it now, we’re going to lose it’,” she said. “I have 100% had this conversation in this room. You stick to what you think, and I’ll stick to what I’m thinking and my facts, and at the end of the day, we’ll agree to disagree, but I want it to be respectful.”
“I think you’ll be surprised, actually,” Goldthorpe sniped back.
McKinney: Without forgone taxes, ACHD would go ‘backwards’
When it came time to reach a consensus, no commissioner came out strongly for taking the full $10 million in foregone. Instead, they opted to set their maximum potential tax increase to the more moderate $7.5 million of foregone, plus the full 3% allowable tax increase.
Commissioner McKinney remarked the agency would only require more funding in the coming years as construction projects continue to get more expensive and the valley grows. He said the agency’s low taxes are not enough to prepare for the rapidly inflating prices.
“If we took no tax increase at all this year, we would be going backwards in our ability to do what we’re obligated to do,” McKinney said. “We’re under a statutory obligation to do a number of things and look at options how they impact that. The truth is the $10 million increase that’s being proposed here doesn’t even meet that.”
Commissioner Alexis Pickering agreed that taking foregone should be on the table to meet Ada County’s needs, but she did not want the commissioners or Wong to see a raise.
“I think it’s really inappropriate to consider taking the foregone and making things harder for folks while giving us in those leadership roles something extra,” she said.