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As wildfire costs increase, Idaho Land Board calls for 4.7% budget increase in 2025


As wildfire costs increase, Idaho Land Board calls for 4.7% budget increase in 2025

Sep 20, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Clark Corbin
As wildfire costs increase, Idaho Land Board calls for 4.7% budget increase in 2025
Idaho Department of Land firefighting crews have responded to more than 270 fires in 2023. (Courtesy of the Idaho Department of Lands)

The Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners approved a 4.7% increase in the budget request for the Idaho Department of Lands’ fiscal year 2025 budget on Tuesday in Boise. 

Overall, the land board approved a budget request totaling $90.3 million from all funding sources, including state and federal funding. The state general fund share of the total budget would be just over $11 million in the proposed new budget, for an increase of 6.4% over the current budget.

Several of the Idaho Department of Lands’ expenses are for fighting wildfires and equipment. The fiscal year 2025 budget request includes requests for $500,000 for four engines for North Idaho’s Cottonwood District, engine fuel and maintenance, as well as an estimated $250,000 increase in the costs of fire operating expenses due to inflation. There are also requests for $27,000 in additional funding for 10 new laptops and software licenses for engine bosses in the fire program and another $25,000 for laptops and software for operations equipment. 

The budget also includes a 1% change in employee compensation pay increase for employees as well as adjusted salary and benefits for new positions.

For next year, the state is also proposing an IT consolidation that would call for transferring positions and funding for salary and benefits to the Office of Information Technology Systems.

Idaho Department of Lands Director Dustin Miller told the land board in a meeting Tuesday at the Idaho State Capitol that he is proud of the work the state’s firefighters have done so far this year. 

“I’ve got to tell you, our folks – just like every year – they caught everything, they fought these fires aggressively and safely, and I’m really proud of the work that they’ve done and that comes at a big cost savings to the Idaho taxpayers,” Miller said. 

Miller also told the land board that the increase in human-caused fires in Idaho has continued. As of Thursday, 195 the 271 fires the Idaho Department of Lands has tracked this year were human-caused, Miller said. 

Idaho Department of Lands wildfire
The Idaho Department of Lands managed the Tyson Fire, which firefighters responded to in Benewah County in July 2023. (Courtesy of Idaho Department of Lands)

The land board comprises several of Idaho’s top statewide elected officials, including Gov. Brad Little, Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield, Attorney General Raúl Labrador, Secretary of State Phil McGrane and State Controller Brandon Woolf. The land board’s job is to advise the Idaho Department of Lands on the management of more than 2.5 million acres of state endowment trust lands in Idaho. When Idaho became a state in 1890, the federal government gave the state about 3.6 million acres of land to benefit state programs like public schools. Some of the land has been sold over time, and under the Constitution of the State of Idaho, the land board manages state endowment lands “to secure the maximum long term financial return” to the beneficiaries.

JFAC to set 2025 budgets during upcoming session of Idaho Legislature

The budget the land board approved Tuesday is only a request. During the upcoming session, the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hold a budget hearing on the request and then write the fiscal year 2025 budget for the Idaho Department of Lands, which then goes to the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate for approval. 

Although the Idaho Legislature is not in session now, state agencies submit their budget requests to the state in September each year to prepare for the upcoming legislative session. 

The largest pieces of the fiscal year 2025 budget are starting to come together. The fiscal year 2025 Medicaid budget request, the largest budget in the state, is $4.6 billion from all funding sources, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. That’s down from the $4.7 billion that was originally approved for fiscal year 2024 by the Idaho Legislature.

For the K-12 public schools budgets, Critchfield has requested $120 million in additional funding for fiscal year 2025, which would represent a 4% increase over the $2.7 billion legislators approved for the fiscal year 2024 budget, Idaho Education News reported

The 2024 legislative session is scheduled to convene Jan. 8 at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.