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Ada County commissioners want to give themselves a raise while cutting money for homeless

·4 min read
In this screenshot from the June 21 Ada County Commission budget meeting, commissioner Ryan Davidson, left, hears from Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane about indigent services contracts.

Ada County commissioners this week set a tentative budget that cuts the county’s property tax budget by $12 million, something commissioner Rod Beck proudly declared had never been done in the history of Ada County.

Fair enough.

But did you also catch the part where the commissioners voted to give themselves raises?

Commissioners agreed to increase their salaries from the paltry sum of $117,556 annually to $122,000. In addition, they agreed to give the commission chairman a $1,000 bonus just for being the chairman.

Even worse, Commissioner Ryan Davidson argued that commissioners deserved even more, trying to convince his fellow commissioners to bump their salaries to $127,000.

“But on the grounds of the fact that we have to do the two-year staggered terms, plus the increased competition in the commissioners’ elections as opposed to the other offices, I think really does diminish to some degree the value of the office compared to the other offices,” Davidson said.

I’m not quite sure I follow, but he later clarified that having to run for a competitive seat creates more of a hardship for the commissioners, so they deserve more money. Given the fact that a lot of people want to run for commissioner suggests there’s nothing unattractive about that salary. Davidson even suggested taking the money from other elected officials’ salaries to make the numbers balance out.

Unbelievable.

Keep in mind that this all comes at a time when the commissioners are proposing to cut funding for a housing-first initiative for homeless people that’s proving to be successful.

Forgive me for being cynical, but it’s downright sickening to listen to commissioners speak so callously about helping homeless people while agreeing to pay themselves $122,000 a year — more than double the median household income in Idaho.

In my experience watching the commissioners over the years, it also seems common practice that they tend not to schedule things on Fridays, so they can enjoy a three-day weekend, something Commissioner Kendra Kenyon hinted at during budget talks on Wednesday.

“I’ve served now two-and-a-half years with five different commissioners,” Kenyon said. “And I’ve seen in the past and what I’ve seen personally, because there are three commissioners, and commissioners feel like this is a part-time job — and not necessarily this board — but I’ve seen commissioners not take it as a full-time position.”

Granted, the pay raise to $122,000 was the recommendation of a citizens advisory group, which the commissioners appointed to take these salary discussions out of their hands. The citizens advisory group also recommended bumps in pay to $122,000 for the coroner, the assessor, the treasurer and the clerk.

The raises stand in stark contrast to the $312,000 on the chopping block for housing-first initiatives, which provide a roof for people who are chronically homeless.

Right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute have railed against housing-first initiatives, calling them a “failed model,” a sentiment Beck parroted during talks about the program.

“I’m doing some research and I don’t, I think this housing-first model is a failed model,” Beck said.

But he apparently chose to ignore a more localized, nonpoliticized accounting of the program, which showed it’s not a failed program.

The 2019 annual review of the New Path Community Housing Program found a 63% decrease in utilization of emergency services, a $1.4 million annual cost saving/cost avoidance and an overall increase in well-being of residents.

Pay now or pay later.

Kenyon argued in favor of continuing to fund the program and improving it, and to his credit, Davidson suggested putting off discussion for another day.

Of course, when you’re making $122,000 for sitting on your brains, it’s easy to look down your nose on those people and make such a cold-hearted decision.

The budget process isn’t over yet. On July 21, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane will give a public presentation going over the proposed budget. On July 27, the board will formally vote on the tentative budget, which sets all of the final elements in motion. Between now and then, the board can take feedback and make adjustments if they feel it’s appropriate to do so, and the public will get a chance in the next few weeks to weigh in before it gets approved.

Personally, I’d be in favor of keeping housing-first initiatives and taking it out of the commissioners’ salaries. We’d get more bang for our buck.

Scott McIntosh is the opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.

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