News

County prepares cuts to balance budget

by AMANDA WINTERS
Sequim Gazette


Though Clallam County officials faced two unpleasant surprises causing a budget shortfall of $3.1 million, they have a game plan to balance the budget and live within their means.

Changes in banking law led to a loss of $2 million of revenue a year in interest to the county. Additionally, an increase in employer contribution requirements for county employees’ pensions resulted in a loss of $700,000 a year.

Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said the county commissioners were smart to put money into the reserve fund when times were good from 2003-2008. While other county governments used the economic explosion to expand, Clallam County actually shrunk by 30 positions over the past decade and put millions of dollars in the reserve fund until the recession hit in 2008, he said.

“That is a rare thing in government,” he said. “That is good management.”


Four layoffs as part of proposed cuts

Through 3-percent across-the-board cuts in every county department, including four layoffs, the budget gap for the proposed 2011 budget was reduced to $1.49 million, which will be covered by reserves, Jones said.

The total proposed county budget is $83 million.

Small reductions including closing the Superior Court Clerk’s office for a half-hour lunch break each day and eliminating a total of nine positions, mostly through attrition, allowed the proposed 2011 budget to maintain all programs and services, he said.

A salary freeze is proposed for the commissioners and administrator. While other employees still would receive their salary step increases if they are due, there would be no cost-of-living increases, Jones said.

“We were quite worried at first when told to reduce the whole $3.1 million,” Jones said. “That was going to be pretty drastic.”

The $3.1 million gap will be dealt with over two years instead of one, Jones said.

The budget problems caused by the banking laws, which say banks can’t loan out public funds without having 100-percent set aside, and the increase in employer contributions to county pensions are not going away and the county needs to adjust the budget to reflect that, he said.

The county reserve fund would be at $8 million after taking out $1.49 million to cover the gap.

Helping the local economy

The county gets $27 million in taxes each year and puts $57 million in the community through salaries and contracts for services with local companies, Jones said.

“We are a huge generator of the local economy,” he said, adding that contracts for services such as road work, mental health services and garbage collection go to local entities and many are funded through grants.

The county receives $27 million from other governments, $5 million from charges for goods and services, $648,000 from licenses and permit fees, $940,000 from fines and forfeits and $10 million from other sources.

The largest county expenditure is public safety. More than $55 million, or 67 percent of the entire budget, goes to public safety, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office, courts, jails and emergency services.

The county will hold two public hearings on the proposed 2011 budget on Dec. 7.

To view the proposed budget online, go to www.clallam.net/bocc/2011Budget.html.

 

 

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