COEUR d'ALENE - As part of an ongoing review of county fund balances, Kootenai County commissioners voted this month to take back hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Solid Waste Department.
"It just seemed like the money was sitting, not being used," said Commissioner Dan Green. "So, let's return it to where we can use it, so we don't have to collect additional money."
Last week, the commissioners voted unanimously to transfer $276,663 from the Solid Waste budget to the county's general fund.
That was the same amount the county had provided as seed money for the Solid Waste Department in the mid-90s, when it branched off from general county services to become an independent, fee-backed department.
The dollars, according to Finance Director David McDowell, had been intended to help Solid Waste cover basic operations and equipment, as well as damages from a previous flood and ice storm.
Now the department, still running off user fees, is humming along fine on its own, McDowell said.
"Now that they're self-sufficient and able to pay for themselves, they're able to pay those (dollars) back to the county," McDowell said.
Green acknowledged that he didn't know if the start-up money had been intended as a loan.
"I wasn't around back then. I'm not sure," he said. "No interest has been charged or collected."
The commissioners have been taking a close look at how to manage dollars accumulated in county fund balances, he added. Green said he stumbled across the opportunity to take back the Solid Waste dollars while going over figures with McDowell.
They deemed the department could afford to pay back the dollars because of its healthy fund balance of $14.7 million, Green said, and the recent lack of need to increase service fees.
"This way, (the money) has a much broader application for potential use," Green said of spending the dollars on general county services.
McDowell said the dollars had been sitting in the Solid Waste balance in the form of contributed capital, and had not been slated for a specific purpose.
Solid Waste Director Roger Saterfiel confirmed that his department is fiscally sound, especially after tightening up staff, expanding recycling and adopting a maintenance plan that has tripled the lifespan of certain equipment.
"Every year we find other things that we can maybe save money on," Saterfiel said.
Still, it's kind of a bummer to see nearly $300,000 less in the department's balance.
"It always hurts," Saterfiel said of losing money. "But we've really made up for it in other areas."
Green said there is no specific use intended for the funds yet, but they will definitely help in these days of tight budgeting.
"That's less money we have to generate in property taxes," Green said.