While land and home values here climb, county spending appears poised to take a tiny tumble.
A new preliminary Kootenai County budget shows several county departments are seeking thousands of dollars less than they have in years past.
County leaders expect to slash further. But even if nothing more is cut, the county’s tax levy rates will drop at least 16.5 percent, said County Clerk Tom Taggart.
“I feel really good about where we are now,” Taggart said. “We’re way, way ahead of the game this year.”
About 20 percent of a typical tax bill goes to the county. If the area’s other 43 taxing districts follow suit, that could translate to good news for taxpayers.
Since residents with skyrocketing land values are least likely to benefit from government cost-trimming, however, the news did little to comfort Otis Fencl and others like him who are appealing their property assessments. Even if the county reduces the value of his land, the Coeur d’Alene resident said he’d remain skeptical.
“They’re just playing it cool this year,” said the angry Fencl, who today will battle with county commissioners over the value of his ranch-style home. “They’ll just get us later.”
Hundreds of residents filled the county courthouse Monday to meet a 5 p.m. deadline for filing assessment appeals. The continuous line sometimes stretched to 20 people, creating 15 minute delays just to pick up forms.
By day’s end, requests for appeal forms had climbed to 2,056 - up from 1,840 on Friday. More than 900 people had actually filed appeals.
A typical year sees only about 50 appeals.
The relationship between property value and taxes will remain largely unfocused for months, but county officials say the preliminary budget is good news.
Though budget requests total $443,000 more than county leaders would like, they are still down nearly 15 percent from last year. That leaves less fat to trim between now and September, when the $35,111,041 budget is made final, Taggart said.
The planning and zoning department, for example, will freeze job openings and upgrade old computers rather than ask to buy new ones. The result: The department’s $502,155 budget request for next year is down $161,766 from its actual budget this year, and is $40,000 less than it spent the year before.
“We’ve reduced four positions through attrition and the staff has worked diligently to cut equipment and expense costs,” said Planning Director Cheri Howell.
The building department requested $65,560 less than it received last year. And the county expects to spend $21,857 less on marine deputies.
Even tax activist Ron Rankin said such cuts are to be applauded, but said residents won’t be satisfied until their tax bills are lowered.
Some residents wonder if that day will ever come.
“It’d be great” if the county continued cutting budgets, said Stanley Kubik, who also will appeal his property assessment today. “But either way, they’re going to get you in the end.”