The big news coming out of last night’s Kootenai County budget public hearing wasn’t anything about the actual county budget, it was the reduction of the Assessor Bela Kovacs’s salary to approximately $45,000/year, beginning October 1. Even more shocking news is that all 3 commissioners agreed to reduce his salary.
Over the past 6 months there have been many executive sessions, press releases, and campaign statements made by Assessor office employee Bob Scott (and primary election competitor to Kovacs), but the public does not know the full extent of what has been happening behind the scenes with Human Resources. It is hard to make an opinion based on the public information out there but if all three commissioners agree with each other to reduce Kovacs’s salary, there must be more to the story.
Is this legal?
According to Idaho statute 31-802, the state gives full authority to the commissioners to supervise the conduct of all county officers. I am unsure if the commissioners have ever reduced the salary of a specific elected official, but it is within their power as commissioners.
Here’s the current salaries of all elected officials, as was approved on September 28, 2021.
Here are the clips regarding this discussion, the full video can be found here.
Bela Kovacs Response
I am not going to go through every public comment that happened at the hearing but there were three main topics commented upon by the community:
Bela Kovacs’s salary
Request that penalties and interest from delinquent property taxes do NOT be included in the budget.
Bela Kovacs’s Salary
People were interested in exactly why the salary was being reduced. No one had any idea of the reasons why, and everyone was frustrated about the precedent being set by this action.
There was a small contingent of regional residents who took an interest in Kootenai County budget hearings and requested that Heritage Health be funded as they always have been. Problem for that argument is that the Heritage Health discussion took place in July and the commissioners voted 2-1 to keep Heritage Health funded, making this argument moot.
Request penalties and interest from delinquent property taxes do NOT be included in the budget
I am about 99% sure this topic stems back to the discussion Sheriff Norris was having with the commissioners and other elected officials about trying to find creative, out of the box, ways to fund the jail and public safety. I am waiting for more information about this but when I have it I will add it to this post on the KCSpectator.com website.
The public comment relating to this topic comes by way of the city of Coeur d’Alene, who sent a letter to the commissioners asking them to not include penalties and interest from delinquent property taxes in the budget. The Post Falls city administrator, mayor of Rathdrum, and a few others were asking the Commissioners to follow along with the Coeur d’Alene letter. Once I receive a copy of that letter I will include it on the website.
Watch the budget deliberations here.
The budget was pretty much complete by the time this public hearing came about. The commissioners and all the county department heads have been working tirelessly over the past 6 months to get the all-up budget to a point that can be put out to the public. If you would like to go back through the budget meetings, they are all listed on the county’s YouTube channel here.
Leslie Duncan suggested removing $490k (leftover from a budget set aside for implementing the new budget matrix into the accounting system) + $50k (funding that was set aside for 1-time projects which will instead be funded with fund balance) and only raise taxes 2%.
Bill Brooks disagreed and said that the county needs to take full 3%, if for nothing else to fund the $8 million payroll raises. Those payroll raises comprised of a 6% cost of living adjustment for all who worked in the county (now with the exception of the Assessor).
Leslie reminded everyone that last year the board approved 3% budget increase but due to a calculation error they only ended up taking 1.5% budget raise and yet paid all the bills. “The Kootenai County taxpayers were not charged that extra 1.5%. We can pay all of our bills at 2%. However, I will say that if I don’t get a second I would ask that the $490k be put into a facilities account so when our location Kootenai North becomes available we have money to move in some departments out there and even fund a satellite office for driver’s license or motor vehicle license.”
Fillios points out that they have taken an average 1.5% tax increase every year for the past 5 years and, with the $8 million in salary increases this year, that budget that wasn’t taken out in the past would have come in handy not to help with this increase. As it is they need to take the full 3% to help cover the cost of the $8 million salary increases. Fillios points out that during those past budget hearings, Duncan has never voted to approve the tax increases.
Both Fillios and Bill Brooks, however, thought Leslie had a good idea about setting aside the $490k to help pay for moving into Kootenai North when it’s available.
With that, Duncan voted to approve the FY23 budget, along with Fillios and Brooks, for the first time in her history. She did say that she will approve this budget, however she believes there are many things in this budget that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for but this budget she’s happy with because “the people here are doing a lot more work with less people and we need to keep that knowledge here and keep those people.”