Letter to Board of Ada County Commissioners re: Budget

July 27, 2021

The Honorable Rod Beck, Ryan Davidson and Kendra Kenyon
Board of Ada County Commissioners
200 W Front Street
Boise, ID 83702

Dear Commissioners Beck, Davidson and Kenyon:

Congratulations on your decision to cut the property tax portion of the 2021-22 budget by $12 million! I applaud your efforts and hope this is a permanent reduction, and not a temporary adjustment.

With two newly seated commissioners, I think it is imperative to remind you that Ada County must comply with Article VIII, Section 3, of the Idaho Constitution regarding limitations on county indebtedness. In fact, all three of you swore an oath to uphold this very document!

In recent years, Ada County has been circumventing the mandatory bond election and requisite 2/3 vote before long-term indebtedness may be incurred by an elected board. More about this later.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ada County jail population went from 1133 inmates on January 1, 2020, down to 776 inmates on April 18, 2020. Although the Fourth District Court already does a good job with alternative sentencing programs, these numbers show that more can be done to reduce the day-to-day jail population before the county considers building more jail space.

In addition, the county does not need a new public safety building. Please remember, the existing facilities used to house not only the ACSO administration, but also the Boise Police Department’s administration, magistrate courts, the dispatch center and drivers’ license services! An update to the existing facilities makes sense; razing and replacing the existing facilities is costly and unnecessary. If you or Sheriff Matt Clifford disagree on these public safety issues, please put a jail expansion and/or new public safety building bond vote on the ballot and let the voters decide.

From a future planning perspective, the county should buy land around the existing jail and public safety building whenever the opportunity arises because these facilities are landlocked. The ACSO does need a new evidence storage facility, and I would encourage the Board to plan for and pursue this project, but it is premature to build a new jail pod and a new public safety building is unnecessary at this time.

The Ada County sheriff has one facility where residents can go to get a new or renewed driver’s license and is making plans for a second such facility. Although the Star location is temporarily closed, the county assessor’s office has five facilities at which Ada County residents can go to get their vehicles titled and registered. In future years, please encourage these two elected officials to work together – as they did in years past – and make these services available at the same set of countywide locations. By consolidating the provision of these two services, and cross-training employees, county residents will be able to save time, energy and tax dollars by eliminating multiple facilities that are merely blocks apart.

As our county population grows, the State of Idaho will likely add more Fourth District Court judges. I urge you to continue to insist that the courthouse facility be put to better use – with evening and weekend court – before agreeing to spend more money to provide additional court facilities. By extending courthouse hours, the courts will be more accessible to the public, and will make better use of existing facilities at a fraction of the cost of providing new courtroom space.

As for the $46,696,638 (2020 CAFR, p. 65) new coroner’s facility, per a long-term lease-purchase contract entered into by the prior Board (including Commissioner Kenyon) without the constitutionally required 2/3 vote of the people, I strongly urge you to cancel this unconstitutional deal. Please hire an outside attorney, if necessary, to figure out how to extract the county from this ridiculously bloated deal. As mentioned above, it is unconstitutional for the county to commit future budget years’ dollars and obligate future boards, so there must be a legal way to cancel this contract without a detrimental impact on the county or the State of Idaho.

Instead of engaging in empire building and continuing down the path of constructing the very pricey proposed coroner’s facility, the county can buy and convert an existing facility to serve the expanding needs of the coroner’s office. At present, there is a 50,000+ square foot building, with 22+ foot-high ceilings, on 2.5 acres, available right next door to the coroner’s current facility! https://www.crexi.com/properties/599603/idaho-5656-w-morris-hill-rd The asking price is less than $8 million. If it costs $5 million, or even $10 million, to appropriately outfit this facility for the coroner’s needs, it makes far more sense for the county’s taxpayers to go this route rather than build a facility from scratch for two or three times the cost.

I understand the county has already expended some funds on a new coroner’s facility in Meridian. Please do not commit the sunk cost fallacy and continue down this vastly overpriced path simply because of the funds that have already been expended to do so. In fact, the land that has been purchased for the facility can be sold, and some of the county’s funds recovered.

In 2021, no Ada County employee should be making less than $15 an hour. At the budget hearing, Commissioner Kenyon expressed concern about salary compression if lower-paid county employees were to receive bigger raises. Compression is merely an excuse, not a good reason, to continue to pay county employees as little as $11.92 (January 2021 figure) per hour.

The issue of salary compression can easily be addressed by the county’s capable human resources staff by adjusting other salaries as needed in order to avoid compression problems. Losing capable underpaid county employees, then having to hire and train new employees, will cost far more in the long run in both dollars and efficiency than doing the right thing for the lower-paid employees right away.

Finally, let us talk about impact fees and Murgoitio Park. Ada County is currently considering implementing impact fees for new growth. The City of Boise has been collecting impact fees for years – including for parks – even outside of city limits in their Area of City Impact, with the authorization of Ada County.

Now, the City of Boise wants to have housing built on the 160 acres they have been promising for decades to turn into a regional park. Please ask the City of Boise for a full accounting of all parks impact fees collected, including interest earned on these funds for all the applicable years, and then hold the city accountable for those dollars. Please join the many people and groups who have aligned in order to protect and preserve this open space asset within the Southwest Community.

Very sincerely,

Sharon M. Ullman (sent electronically)

Sharon M. Ullman
2042 E Deerhill Drive
Meridian, ID 83642
(208) 861-5848

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