Idaho Counties Say State Mandates Are a Financial Burden
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new report shows Idaho counties are struggling to deal with the financial burden created by state mandates that make county governments responsible for things like covering the cost of public defenders and funding jails.
The report from state auditors with the Office of Performance Evaluations was presented to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
Report co-author Amanda Bartlett said 80 percent of the county commissioners surveyed for the report identified their biggest challenge is not having enough revenue to meet state's mandates. Almost 400 elected county officials from 37 of Idaho's 44 counties participated in the study.
Jail overcrowding, a new statewide software system for Idaho's courts and newly created standards for public defenders were among the problems cited by the counties.
County officials said the court software transition added expenses, including new hires to work through technology issues. Counties also paid $32 million to provide public defenders in 2017, with the state contributing $4.2 million in grants to help cover those costs.
The study found that 29 of Idaho's 44 counties faced state-imposed revenue constraints in 2018, either because of the 3 percent overall cap on property tax revenue increases or caps on individual levy rates.
The findings were no surprise to Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties.
"These are things we've been saying for some time. The revenue limitations are particularly harsh for rural counties, 75 percent are impacted by the limitations that are in statute," Grigg told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
The report also indicated a lack of collaboration between the counties and state.
Of the officials surveyed, 57 percent did not think the Legislature did a good job seeking input from counties and 66 percent did not think state agencies were responsive to counties' concerns.