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Eye On Boise

JFAC rejects 20-year lease prepayment for mountain-top communications sites

As JFAC continues setting state agency budgets this morning, the budget that it set for the Military Division leaves out the $1.3 million 20-year lease prepayment Gov. Butch Otter had recommended for mountain-top transmitters and other public safety communications equipment that’s now on state endowment lands, in the form of a transfer from the state’s general fund to the endowment. Instead, lawmakers went with a year-by-year approach at $84,300 a year, with the lease fees built into the budget of each agency that has the equipment.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said, “In 20 years, we may well be using satellite systems instead of mountain-top repeaters. We thought 10 years would be more appropriate.” And only the first year of the payments is being funded, on a one-time basis. “Next year, we’ll review it, and perhaps we’ll make it ongoing,” Bair said.

Legislative budget analyst Richard Burns told the joint budget committee, “There’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of work concerning these telecommunications sites. The Division of Financial Management has worked with the parties involved.”  

State agencies using the sites include the Idaho State Police, the Idaho Transportation Department, Idaho Fish & Game, the Department of Lands, the Idaho Department of Corrections, the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, and Idaho Emergency Medical Services. Bair’s budget proposal for the state Military Division was approved unanimously this morning by the joint committee. It also includes a one-time payment of $18,100 in back rent to the Department of Lands for the Flat Top Butte communication site.

The biggest decisions in agency budget-setting will come in the weeks ahead; the public schools budget is scheduled to be considered March 12. Today's decision on the lease prepayment saved more than $1 million in state general funds that could be directed elsewhere in next year's state budget, including to schools; lawmakers are facing a tighter budget than anticipated for schools, due to much bigger increases in the number of students than was anticipated in the governor's budget.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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