The Kootenai County commissioners' vision for the next year is packed, with plans of putting out a ballot measure on restructuring county government, exploring options for a jail expansion and finishing the massive rewrite of county development ordinances.
The three officials discussed myriad updates and hopes for the county on Tuesday morning at the state of the county speech, given at the Coeur d'Alene Chamber's Upbeat Breakfast at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.
"We're trying to push," said Commissioner Dan Green of the officials' plans.
A continuing problem for the county is overcrowding at the jail, Green said during his portion of the speech.
"This year, Sheriff Watson is expecting to spend $900,000 to house and transport inmates to other facilities due to overcrowding," he noted.
Since voters have shot down previous initiatives to fund jail expansions, Green said, the commissioners are instead encouraging state lawmakers to pursue legislation reinstating the local option sales tax for jail funding and property tax relief.
"We feel that this is the most effective way to fund a jail expansion," Green said.
The commissioners have also committed to put a ballot measure to restructure county government before voters by November, he said.
The ballot measure's contents will be finalized next month, he said, and could include hiring a county administrator, increasing the number of commissioners to five or seven, and making some elected officials like the clerk and coroner simply hired positions.
"I can honestly say on this topic, even among the nine currently elected county officials, there is not a consensus," Green said. "It is going to make for an interesting ballot measure."
Efforts are progressing with updating the county's land use regulations and zoning designations implementing the new Comprehensive Plan, he said, with a projected deadline of January 2013.
The rewrite process has been open and transparent, he added, with consulting firm Kendig Keast conducting live webinars, and progress updated at www.kccode.com.
"The regulations that eventually come out of this process will direct how we use our own land and guide growth for maybe the next 20 years or so," Green said. "Property rights is a passionate topic here in North Idaho, and this makes the project so very important."
The county also expects the partnership project with Kootenai Electric Cooperative to generate electricity from landfill gas to be up and running by March, Green said.
"We are looking forward to this project to be an excellent partnership for years to come," Green said.
Commissioner Jai Nelson said the officials are closer to creating a citizens panel to hear property value appeals and recommend decisions to the commissioners.
The commissioners are taken from their usual governing duties to oversee the growing number of appeals every summer as the board of equalization, she noted.
"In the 1970s and '80s, there were typically 30 to 40 appeals a year," she said. "Last year, there were around 400 appeals, and these hearings were all day long for several weeks."
The commissioners will interview panel applicants this week, she said.
Nelson continues to work with community stakeholders to create a regional involuntarily hold facility, she said, for individuals taken into police custody because they're under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The commissioners are also working to develop a more fiscally responsible fund balance policy, she added.
"We intend to place a cap on fund levels," Nelson said. "Once a certain level is met, the set policy will be to cease to accrue more money on that particular fund."
The county had 767 employees in 2012, said Commissioner Todd Tondee.
The commissioners cut 18 staff members from their departments last year, he noted, bringing the total to 240. The sheriff's department added nine staff members, totaling 290.
Tondee said the 2012 budget of $74,127,159 saw $560,000 in property taxes for new growth.
"I know that seems like a lot in this economic climate, however that number is down substantially from previous years," he said.
The commissioners did not take any of the possible 3 percent tax increase for this fiscal year, Tondee reminded, and instead used fund balances to cover most capital expenditures.
That brought down the portion of the budget funded by property taxes from 52.74 percent to 52.09 percent.
"This is a break from the increasing percentage trend over the past few years," Tondee said. "This board intends on holding the line and also expects this percentage to be down in 2013."
Steve Wilson, president and CEO of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber who attended the event, said he was encouraged that the commissioners said they are pushing departments to run more efficiently.
"The most important thing government can always do in terms of assisting businesses and our business growth and development is to remain as efficient as possible," Wilson said.