NEZPERCE — Greg Johnson, Justin McLeod and Eric Hasselstrom comprise the board of Lewis County Commissioners, working closely with County Clerk Lisa Winner. During their Feb. 27 meeting, they reflected on the past year, their recent trip to the Idaho State Legislature and the year ahead.
Following the collapse of Lewis County’s main fair building last year, the community is coming together to rebuild. Although it is the fair board’s building, it is important to the whole county.
“We are working with the fair board, doing anything we can to assist them,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that while neighboring counties are building new jails and courthouses, Lewis County’s size, population and budget lead to smaller-scale projects. McLeod said that last year, Lewis County completed several infrastructure projects, including the courthouse roof and replacing heaters. He credits former commissioner Mike Ponozzo’s contacts with the state for a good outcome on the courthouse roof. Using an epoxy coating to seal the roof at $26,000, instead of $100,000-plus, saved the county considerable money.
CAREs Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) funded heat pumps used to replace the original heaters in the nearly 50-year-old building. This has resulted in more efficient heating and lower monthly costs down the road, Johnson said. Winner explained the increase in critical memory and servers for various departments is another key project. Johnson said that broadband expansion is also in the works.
Hasselstrom, the newest commissioner, began in January. He said he’s been really impressed with the good work the board has done in the past and what they can accomplish with a small budget.
“We squeeze every nickel we can,” Johnson said.
Hasselstrom noted how helpful McLeod, Johnson and Winner have been in explaining things to him.
“It’s really enjoyable because they want to help me. I want to continue to do the good things.”
The first week in February, the group traveled to Boise for the Idaho Association of Counties (IAC) legislative session. Hasselstrom said he appreciates advice from commissioners in other counties.
“Everyone wants to help you learn,” Hasselstrom said. He learned a lot from a solid waste presentation organized by Idaho County Commissioner Denis Duman, noting how complicated it is.
“Run the county, spend the tax dollars the best we can,” Hasselstrom said. “We care about the funding and the employees. Every employee plays a huge role.”
Johnson participates in a legislative Zoom every Friday, hosted by the IAC, to keep counties apprised of what the Idaho Legislature is doing. Property tax reduction is of great importance to the county. Three property tax reduction bills are being considered, which each go in a different direction. McLeod added that changes to one category of property taxes can have unintended consequences for others. He also said that Seth Grigg, IAC’s executive director, does a great job with the legislature in representing the counties’ interests.
The commissioners and Winner agreed it is great to have Phil McGrane as Secretary of State.
“It is nice to have someone who has the county elections experience,” Winner said, adding that it makes the clerk’s job easier to have someone in the job who has run elections. She explained that running an election is complicated and not many people understand it.
“The legislature really listens to him, respects him,” Hasselstrom said of McGrane.
Johnson said although he believes that Idaho elections already work well, he believes McGrane has some good ideas to increase the transparency of elections.
McLeod said that Hasselstrom’s contacts with the Idaho Wheat Council and other groups add to the mix of connections the commissioners have in Boise and around the state.
“It’s about who you know and who you can get in to talk to,” McLeod concluded.