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County budget receives help, takes financial blows

Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones received some good news and some bad news regarding the county's 2009 budget this month.

After calculating last year's numbers, Jones figures the county has about $1 million more than expected in the general fund reserve going into 2009.

But shortly after the discovery was made, he heard from Clallam County Juvenile & Family Services director Peter Peterson about a cut in state funding to his department.

"The difference from the actual reserve balance and what we forecast is almost by design. I want to plan conservatively for each year," Jones said.

Rumors of state-level cuts that might affect the county's budget in years to come are one reason for that caution.

"There is no paperwork to support those, but the state is facing a rough budget situation. The first one to hit the fan locally was the loss of about 25 percent of the juvenile services funding."

Peterson received a letter saying the state no longer will fund the $303,000-a-year crisis residential center for runaway teens.

"We are going to be having a lot of discussions regarding state-level cuts as they impact our county, including the crisis center," said Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman, I-Port Angeles.

"We're really going to have to tighten that belt. The sheriff ended up coming in underbudget, which is a great example of what we at the county are trying to do."

The Sheriff's Office spent $477,000 less than was budgeted in 2008, helping the general fund squeak to $1 million more than the forecast.

"It may sound like a lot, but it's only about 5 percent of my budget," Sheriff Bill Benedict said, adding the funding was saved in overtime hours and equipment.

The county is expected to dip into reserves in 2009 and 2010, something Jones and the commissioners are planning for.

Their hope is the economy will begin to pick up or that large infrastructure projects, such as the Elwha Dam removal and the U.S. Highway 101 widening project, will insulate Clallam County from the nation's faltering economy long enough for the financial atmosphere to clear.

"The next 2.5 to three years are going to be hard and we expect to see cuts from the state," Chapman said.

"But that's why we didn't spend big during the building boom. We wanted to flatten out that roller coaster of ups and downs in the financial market."



Reach Evan McLean at

emclean@sequimgazette.com.





Three weeks into 2009, Clallam County's budget is looking better than forecast:

_ Preliminary general fund reserve estimate was $12 million

_ Actual general fund reserve is $13.1 million

_ Preliminary general fund revenue forecast is $30.8 million

_ Preliminary general fund expenses are estimated at $32.8 million

_ Early total budget revenue is estimated at $75.3 million

_ Early total budget expenses are forecast at $79.5 million



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