Property Tax Working Group Twin Falls commissioner

Twin Falls County Commissioner Don Hall testifies to the Idaho Legislature's Property Tax Working Group on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 at the state Capitol in Boise.

Inmates are sleeping on the floors of county jails by the dozens in Boise, Twin Falls and Pocatello, state lawmakers learned Monday, for lack of space in the jails and lack of money to expand them. Washington County Commissioner Kirk Chandler said with his county’s budget crunch, “We don’t have a deputy on at night.” Just the other day, he said, a robbery was reported at 3 a.m. “There’s no one on duty.”

Clearwater County just got done striping its roads, but only had enough money to paint the fog lines, said Sheriff Chris Goetz. “There are no center lines,” he said, “because there was no money to do that.”

At the same time, complaints about dramatically rising property taxes are inundating both local and state officials, and that’s why the Legislature’s Property Tax Working Group was hearing from county officials and others on Monday. While some contended local governments should just spend less to ease property taxes, county officials said they’re required by state law to provide services, and the state’s growing population needs them. Meanwhile, others said residents could be taxed out of their homes.

“In 1999, I bought a home in Eagle,” Patrick Chapman told the panel. “I bought what I could afford. … I’ve been there for 20 years now, because this is my home.” But recently, he said, the property next door to him went on the market for $375,000, “more than twice what I paid for my house.” Now his value is shooting up, and he’s afraid he won’t be able to afford the taxes to keep his home. “I don’t have that kind of money.”

Russ Hendricks, lobbyist for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, asked, “Should we continue to incentivize growth if it’s forcing us to put in infrastructure that we can’t really afford?”

Former longtime eastern Idaho state Rep. Tom Loertscher said, “What we’ve done by allowing county commissioners to write off property taxes for new businesses is just fundamentally wrong. … That should be repealed. They should be taxed like any other business.”

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or look for it in Tuesday's edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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