September 2, 2012 in Idaho

Eye on Boise: Idaho near middle in government units

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – A new set of data from the Census Bureau shows it’s not necessarily true that every bump on every log in Idaho is incorporated, nor that because Idahoans hate government so much they have lots and lots of it, in the form of myriad special local taxing districts.

Actually, Idaho ranks slightly below the middle among the 50 states for the number of local government units, according to the 2012 Census of Governments. Idaho has 1,161 local government units – 44 counties, 200 cities, 799 special districts and 118 independent school districts – ranking the state 28th nationally, according to the census data.

That does, however, mean Idaho ranks 12th in the nation for its number of special districts. And we of course rank much lower in population, 39th among the 50 states. We rank 39th for the number of cities, too, and 34th for the number of counties.

So who ranked at the far ends in this comparison? Illinois had the most local governments of any state: 6,968, about 2,000 more than second-place Pennsylvania. Hawaii had the fewest local governments of any state at 21, easily beating second-to-last-place Rhode Island, which had 134, and third-to-last Nevada at 190.

Lowe legal bill tops $614,000

The state’s legal bill for fighting former Idaho Transportation chief Pam Lowe’s wrongful firing lawsuit has swelled to $614,647, according to information obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law.

Idaho’s Risk Management office in the state Department of Administration, responding to a public records request from The Spokesman-Review, reported that figure for total attorney fees and other defense costs for the state as of the date of dismissal of the suit. Kit Coffin, risk management chief, reported, “That is the total of all in hand on the date of dismissal. There may be another bill or two from work relating to that.”

After close to three years of litigation, the state settled with Lowe for $750,000. It also gave her a positive job reference, which was attached to the settlement.

Voters approve most school levies

Most of the school tax levy measures on the ballot last week appear to have passed, with all three Kootenai County school districts approving theirs – including a 13-year, $32.7 million bond levy in Coeur d’Alene – and levies in Treasure Valley districts including Kuna, Nampa, Homedale, Notus and Wilder all passing. Potlatch voters were 67 percent in favor of their district’s $1.3 million levy to save school programs, electives, sports and teachers’ jobs, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports, after a similar measure failed in May. An attempted recall of a school board member in Bingham County failed.

In Caribou County in eastern Idaho, a $5 million bond in the North Gem School District reportedly failed, coming just two votes short of meeting the two-thirds supermajority requirement. Power and Cassia county voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.8 million supplemental levy for the American Falls school district. Buhl voters also approved a supplemental levy, after two earlier tries failed narrowly.

Utility hires general

Idaho Power has announced that it has a new director of corporate communications: Brig. Gen. William Shawver, who recently left his position as director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, and who remains commander of the Idaho Air National Guard. Shawver headed the state bureau for nearly five years and left July 27. He’ll start his new position at Idaho Power on Tuesday.

“Bill brings great experience in leadership, program management, communication and incident response, and we’re excited to have him on board,” said Jeff Malmen, vice president of public affairs for Idaho Power and former chief of staff to Gov. Butch Otter. At the utility, Shawver will lead a staff addressing external and internal communications, marketing and creative services. He is a 37-year veteran of the Idaho Air National Guard.

Smoke mars balloon rally

The brightly colored hot-air balloons rising over Boise this weekend for the annual Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic are still a pretty sight, but the view is marred this year by the wildfire smoke that’s been plaguing Boise’s air all month. For August as of Thursday, the Treasure Valley had one red air quality alert, six orange and more than a dozen yellow.

Mike Toole of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said this year is the worst in the past decade. The only ones that came close were about a week of intense wildfire smoke in Boise in 2007, and a seven-to-10-day winter inversion with poor air quality in 2002. “This one we’re dealing with now started on Aug. 5,” Toole said. “So we’re going on four weeks with this, and we’re just not seeing a lot of evidence that we’re going to break out of this smoke cycle anytime soon.”


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