Bear Lake County Commission Chair Vaughn Rasmussen welcomed commissioners from Caribou, Franklin and Oneida counties, having each introduce himself and those attending via Zoom were likewise included. Several items were added to the agenda such as the mutual aid agreement, pending legislation and Department of Parks and Recreation fee increases.
Oneida County inquired how phone calls while driving are handled since they had county equipment involved in an incident while the driver was on the telephone. Bear Lake responded that its policy follows state and federal law which means phones must be hands-free.
Representative Marc Gibbs joined the meeting via Zoom. Commentary focused on Senate 1048 which is being promoted as a tax reduction. Gibbs said that there was a tax plan introduced by the House which gives sales tax and income tax relief. Governor Little had spoken of a reduction of $135M by doing away with grocery taxes. Another proposal lowers sales tax from while another alternative lowers sales tax on all purchases and potentially reduces the overall tax burden by $145M. Gibbs preferred lowering everyone’s sales taxes. Gibbs had not heard of legislation addressing local funding for health districts but there had been much debate about the authority of the Health and Welfare director. He expected there was enough support for a bill regarding Health and Welfare and one has been drafted but has not been introduced. A bill offered then rewritten repeatedly limits the governor’s powers during emergencies. Gibbs felt the most recent iteration was the best and gave the governor authority to issue orders to remain in effect for 60 days. Gibbs had some reservations concerning the possibility that new emergencies may arise toward the end of the 60 days since it was “spongey” whether the governor can enact something without calling the legislature into session in that circumstance, thus giving the governor authority for periods longer than 60 days. Commissioners asked about counties having no excess funds at the end of the fiscal year. Gibbs had not seen such a proposal but noted there is talk about an avalanche fund and snowmobile registration. Senator Mark Harris joined the meeting and was asked to discuss tax reduction proposals. He described property tax proposals which he understood capped taxes at 3% unless an urban renewal district was involved. He asked commissioners to review that legislation and report their opinions to him and Gibbs. Harris remarked that during a special session a bill went into immediate effect allowing county clerks to issue absentee ballots 7 days before an election. A bill now circulating makes that permanent. It also requires each county have 24-hour surveillance of where ballots are kept.
He commented that is an unfunded mandate but he thought there are funds to help rural counties pay for surveillance. It was reported that the last day bills can be introduced is the last day the legislature is in session. Redistricting was impacted by Covid and the legislature was advised an accurate census count will not be available until fall or winter. Thus, the legislature must have a solution before the end of this session. With respect to snowmobile registration, a new bill gives $1.00 to the Department of Lands. Gibbs noted he does not know why Lands would be involved. The commissioners felt any increase should be moved to those providing registrations since the new online system has proven cumbersome. The two legislators were returning to the floor and again requested input from the commissioners via text or email and thanked commissioners for their attention to the legislative process.
Addressing county employees on telephone calls while driving county equipment, it was agreed doing so was contrary to law and violates Bear Lake County’s policy, as an example. Rasmussen added Bear Lake has a disciplinary policy whereby verbal then written warnings are issued then the process escalates upon additional violations, eventually leading to termination. Discussion ensued regarding liability and changing behavior as the first step.
Rasmussen explained Bear Lake would like to pursue a four-county guardian program. It had become clear such a program is a much bigger project than expected. Input was given regarding the steps to be taken, the first of which is a set of bylaws and a meeting on March 10th was set to begin discussion. Matters to be decided are board member background, a coordinator and court visitor, allocation of costs, redistribution in overload situations, funding availability, potential for an internship, guardianship or conservatorship, Medicaid impacts, employee assignments, training, actions necessary to assign guardians, memorandum of understanding among counties, prohibition on co-mingling funds, handbook development and marketing strategy. Rasmussen recommended each county assign a commissioner to meet and prepare recommendations for review. The counties detailed individual situations which dictate the representative of that jurisdiction, the need for well- and currently-trained personnel, sharing the workload and guidelines. It was believed having prosecuting attorneys involved to decide how this may be best organized. Preliminarily, it is envisioned there will be a twelve-member board with three from each county. Cindy Garner was assigned to provide contact information for each county to the meeting coordinator, Sandra Thoen.
The multi-county economic development resource, Four County Alliance of Southeast Idaho, was reviewed. Franklin County will not be involved because they have their own economic development person. Possible replacements for the retiring director were noted and the group expects to continue supporting that resource.
Oneida County would like access to processes for nonprofit funding requests and, in particular, forms used to provide sufficient information to define the requestor’s resources and the purpose of any county funding. Because Bear Lake’s commissioners are often ex-officio members of the various nonprofits who request county funding, the commissioners felt they have a good understanding of each entity’s finances. There is an annual request to the county because those dollars are the only way to match state monies. In another instance, a representative from both the county and Montpelier City sit on the board which helps coordinate efforts more easily.
Bear Lake was confronted with per diem payments recently because the Sheriff’s Department was paying actual meal expense but other departments used a per diem rate. Another aspect of meal costs has arisen with Bear Lake’s Ambulance Service which will now be handled on another metric which pays a per hour rate for transfers out of the county.
Bear Lake requested input regarding waiving landfill costs for specific entities such as library, senior center, hospital or fair grounds. Charging such entities was originally deemed to be “charging yourself” inasmuch as those entities are taxpayer funded. With the regional landfill in operation, waivers became an issue.
Rasmussen explained House Bill 199 on tax reduction was one the group should review then provide comments to the legislative representatives.
Rasmussen encouraged Caribou County to have a board member attend SIPH meetings inasmuch as participation is needed to accurately give input for the group. A case in point involved a pending bill that would move health department funding to the counties rather than through the state.
The four counties have operated under a Mutual Aid Agreement and it is re-executed annually. Rasmussen proposed that document be modified so it is automatically renewed for a one-year period unless previously terminated. It was agreed the group would continue operations “as is” this year but Bear Lake’s attorney will modify the wording so it can be adopted later.
An added agenda item was a discussion of the overtime processes among the counties. Some counties’ maximum is 240 hours while others have set 40 hours. Bear Lake’s Road and Bridge hours are monitored by the County Supervisor. Rasmussen said he would rather pay overtime and be done with it so that hours do not accumulate for hefty payouts.
Issues have arisen with administration and funding of dual-county ISDA stations that check for quagga muscles. Bear Lake County joined Utah and the two sources fund a station at the Bear Lake overlook in Logan Canyon. The funding transits through the Bear Lake Regional Commission. The arrangement works well, Rasmussen said, because boats come through the station and do not have to be re-inspected at additional locations in Bear Lake County. There is sufficient monetary incentive for the station to be run professionally and Bear Lake is confident the results protect the lake. Some counties have encountered poor enforcement, overlapping inspection areas and escalating costs which they would like to resolve.
Other topics included methods to stop sign deterioration due to vandalism, continuing a discussion of landfill cost waivers at the next meeting and ambulance services, Rasmussen anticipates ambulances may eventually be staffed by hospital employees because repeated pages are conducted but would not be needed under that jurisdiction. Franklin County had about 700 runs last year, many of which were transfers to McKay Dee which requires at least half a day. Franklin reported they pay EMTs an hourly rate if someone is picked up but they rely primarily on two or three people because volunteers are difficult to find.
Commissioner Payne was to conduct a tour of the new courthouse inasmuch as he was the board member responsible during construction. The meeting adjourned for the tour with a decision that the next meeting will be on April 21st beginning at 10 a.m. A location will be selected at a later time.