Idaho Falls’ City Council is slated to vote on a tentative budget Monday that would take $925,222 in “foregone balance” to pay for new employees and equipment for the police and fire departments.
Cities in Idaho are allowed to raise property taxes by a maximum of 3 percent plus the value of new construction every year. In years that they raise taxes less than the cap, the amount by which they could have raised taxes but didn’t is added to the city’s “foregone balance.” The city can then add some of this foregone amount to the property tax increase in a later year without legally exceeding the 3 percent cap.
For 2018-2019, Idaho Falls’ tentative budget includes $1.13 million in upgrades to the police department, including hiring four new officers whose salaries would be covered by a federal grant in 2018-2019. The rest would be covered by the foregone balance and include buying new police cars as well as turnout gear for the fire department and hiring two animal control officers, two communications specialists and a records clerk.
The city hasn’t used any foregone balance in recent years. Councilman John Radford said the Council is considering it this year because the city’s growth means using it this year would impact residents less while also helping to catch up on deferred expenses at the police department.
“We’ve had such a big growth, and it’s possible to take the foregone to the least cost of the residents,” he said. “We’ve underfunded the police (for) a number of years. This seems like the best way to catch up and have a funding source in the future.”
If the Council adopts this proposal, it would make for a total property tax levy hike of $1.87 million, or 3 percent plus the $925,222 in foregone balance, said city spokesman Bud Cranor. This would result in a total 2018-2019 property tax levy of about $33.35 million and would leave Idaho Falls with almost $5.4 million in foregone balance that could be used in future years.
The total proposed 2018-2019 budget is for $206.6 million, an almost 6 percent increase over this year’s $195.2 million. Radford said it was a “pretty standard budget year” other than the use of foregone balance.
“What it does do is help us get on top of maintenance costs and run the city in an efficient way, and … it allows us to benefit from the growth of the city and pass those service on to our residents,” he said.
The Council can change the budget before voting on it, and whatever is adopted Monday night will be the maximum budget, to be followed by a public hearing on Aug. 16. The Council is then scheduled to discuss any public input before adopting a final budget on Aug. 23. The Council can reduce the final budget number from whatever is adopted Monday but it can’t increase it.
The Council has a busy agenda Monday. As well as adopting the preliminary budget the Council also is scheduled to vote on buying a new fire truck and approving a new contract with the city’s firefighters that would give them a 2 percent raise.
While the $508,970 for the new pumper truck, which replaces one that is 24 years old, will be in the 2018-2019 budget, the Council is voting early to authorize the purchase so as to lock in the price and avoid paying more if new federal tariffs drive up the price of steel.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.