It is June. My first goal for June was to be done coughing from the crud I managed to catch in mid May. I haven’t reached that goal completely, but I can honestly say that I have hit 80%. June marks 6 months since I have officially been at this commissioner thing. I was told it takes a full year or even two to really learn the job. I was skeptical. I spent a lot of time at the courthouse during my campaign. Now, 6 months in, I have learned that I have so much more to learn. I have learned a few things though, and one of them is to set more realistic goals. 80% is not such a bad mark to shoot for.
I have learned just how much time, energy, and money it takes to simply run the county government. Latah County values its employees and the previous and current commissioners have done everything they can to assure they are fairly compensated. This includes salary surveys, cost of living adjustments, and a decent benefit package. We listen to every department’s budget requests, and over the next few months will determine the percentage of salary increase balanced against new employees for growing departments or tools and space to complete their jobs. Quiz question for you: “With the public safety department (Sheriff's office) being the largest section of the county budget, what is the second?”
The largest share of the county budget is your and my property taxes. The assessors office determines a value for our land based on fair market value. We as commissioners, become a board of equalization to assure that we are all valued fairly in comparison with our neighbors with like property. Latah County can collect a set amount of property tax for the whole county per year. This can, and usually does, go up at a rate of 3% a year. The valuation of all property may go up, but because of this 3% cap, the amount of tax that can be levied per 100K of value may actually drop. I know, this is as clear as mud. But my taxes actually dropped by two hundred dollars this year as a result of revaluation. Quiz question #2: “How did your tax levy rate change in this year’s assessment notice?”
On a population scale of small, medium, large, and extra large, Latah County is considered a large county. Unique to other large counties, we have a large chunk of tax exempt properties. Gritman Medical Center and most of its properties are exempt. The UI and all the associated fraternities, sororities, and grounds are exempt land. Smaller counties with large swaths of public land receive federal dollars in lieu of property taxes. There is no such break for large chunks of tax exempt land. We just have to make do with less. Quiz question #3: “Which county is slightly larger than us in population that we will likely pass by after the 2020 census?”
While some of you may find all of this tedious, I find it fascinating. I have learned a few other small things as well:
I need to read everything that is going to show up on my desk during a public meeting prior to that public meeting. I swim on Mondays and Wednesdays. I get to the office no later than 7 am. This gives me 2 hours before meeting time. It is usually enough time.
I have a basement office and we meet in a basement conference room. My office has a window that looks out at the side of the generator shed. I have exactly 2 weeks each year that natural light hits my window. I will be taking vitamin D during the summer months as well this year and I need to get outside anytime there is a 10 minute break in meetings.
When campaigning, I could raise money and use it to attend fundraisers and community functions and write off the extra mileage as a campaign expense. On my ¾ time salary, I pay for anything I attend that happens in the off hours, includes alcohol, or isn’t directly related to county business or training. I joke that they pay us just so we can pour it back into the community. I am surprisingly okay with this. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a philanthropist.
I am going to have to start being pickier about what I attend and why. All three of us have jobs outside of being a commissioner, and we have to divide and conquer. I really like Tom and Dave, and enjoy their company immensely. But, there is only so much of us to go around.
I need to swim, run, ride my bike, or ski on a regular basis to stay sane. I need to spend time with Greg and the horses just as frequently to stay married. I have to go someplace like a river canyon where I have no cell phone access for at least a week per year to remind myself what it means to be a human being rather than a human doing.
Shooting for 80% means that one of the above didn’t happen this week. Quiz question #4: “Which of the above got short shifted?”