- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - State lands officials are requesting more money to fight wildfires and a better system for keeping public records for fiscal year 2016. Overall, the department is seeking roughly a $3.7 million, or 8 percent, increase in its budget.

Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz asked legislative budget writers Monday for $100,000 for the first phase of a system that will make it easier to fill requests for public records. The department received 683 public records requests last year, the seventh-most of any state department, Schultz said.

Officials requested $17.5 million to cover the cost of fighting wildfires in 2013 - more than the two previous years combined, and more than double the 10-year average. An additional $27.7 million will be required next year to pay for fighting wildfires in 2014.

The rising costs prompted Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, to ask whether money spent fighting fires on endowment lands could be reimbursed from endowment funds. But Deputy Director David Groeschl said that the state doesn’t charge the land’s owner unless negligence is involved because all citizens benefit from the clean air and water resulting from putting out a fire.

Schultz also requested $250,000 for a study on navigable waters and a $500,000 for a fire guard station near Idaho City - neither of which is included in Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s budget.

Lawmakers pushed back Monday against the proposed costs to search for and select consultants for the new public records system and an asset allocation plan - estimated to cost $70,000 each.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, wondered if there was a less expensive way to find the needed consultants.

The proposal also includes nearly $2 million to be used for information technology systems for forest information data and land lease administration, as well as a new staff position in Coeur d’Alene and minor office expansions and repairs.

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