COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County commissioners passed their $74.7 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year after a hearing on the subject Wednesday night.
While the budgetwas approved by Commissioners Todd Tondee and Jai Nelson, Commissioner Dan Green voted against the budget because he could not support two issues.
First, he said, the County has assumed more risk with its self-insured healthcare plan, but the savings that were derived in doing so will not be banked.
Instead, he said, the savings from that have been spent.
"We've increased our stop loss by $100,000, and we should set the savings aside to cover that," he said.
And, Green said he would like to see the county begin chipping away at its operating budget by cutting 1 percent - or roughly $230,000 - out of it.
"A $230,000 reduction would show that we are serious about this," Green told the other commissioners. "I'd like to raise the bar."
While Nelson and Tondee both agreed that the operating budget could be reduced, they favored taking a hard look at it over this next fiscal year and propose specific cuts in the next budget cycle.
"I don't like the shotgun approach," Tondee said. "I would favor directing staff to analyze the budget to see where we can save some dollars."
Nelson agreed with Tondee. She said county staff has worked hard to trim extra cost over the past year, and Green's proposal felt more like the commissioners were punishing staff for holding the line.
"I'd rather be more methodical about this and go through a process," she said.
Tondee and Nelson didn't agree with Green's approach on the health insurance either.
"We have a fund balance to cover the cost of the risk," Tondee said. "When we look at where our workforce is, we should be giving some of that back to employees."
Nelson said she agreed with Tondee's approach.
Only two people spoke during the public comment period. Bob Bingham, of Athol, compared the county's budget with the budgets in Ada County and Canyon County.
He said that, while the comparison was difficult, it appeared that Kootenai County was spending millions more on a per-citizen basis than those two counties.
Tondee said that there is a lot more to comparing county budgets than simply comparing the bottom lines. Every county in the state is a little bit different and has different challenges.
"Not to be disrespectful, but I don't favor going through that process," he said. "I would rather spend the time looking at our services."
Bill Matson, a custom home builder from Worley, questioned why the county was proposing to eliminate the 5-acre lots around the lake, which in turn would limit the county's revenue potential into the future.
He pointed to one project on the lake that stretches along a mile of shoreline. He said currently the land owner could split that property into 105 parcels, but after the county changes its land use codes that property could only be split into five parcels - that very few people could afford.
"If the new land use process goes on like it is, it will put me out of business," he said, adding he cannot understand why the county would limit development while it was trying generate more income.
Green said the county is not simply trying to generate more revenue. It was also trying to control spending.