News

County proposes balanced budget

By MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

A public discussion of the 2013 Clallam County budget drafted by County Administrator Jim Jones attracted just a handful of citizens to the Sequim Transit Center on Thursday, Oct. 4.

 

Interest in the budget may be down because the balanced budget Jones put together provides no new goodies to anyone.

 

That includes Sequim Councilman Don Hall, who once again discussed changes to Brown Road as it winds its way to Port Williams. “It’s a dangerous road,” he said. “I’m concerned someone’s going to get hurt.”

 

“I’ve been talking to them about it for 10 years,” Hall said. “I’ve been trying to get a trail down there.”

Hall added that he knows the county is going through tough times.

 

Coming up with a balanced budget wasn’t easy: revenues are projected at $31,278,422, down $303,617 from 2012. But that amount will be bolstered with $1 million drawn from the Capital Projects fund.

 

Jones says the General Fund Revenue collections are “still being held back by the weak economy.”

 

No increase in sales taxes is projected, but the county is counting on receiving a 1-percent bump in property tax (approximately $97,000), a $100,000 increase from timber sales and an additional $200,000 transfer from the Road Department to the Sheriff’s Office for traffic policing.

 

The losses in revenue result from cuts from the state in both grants and contracts for services. The county will lose more than $900,000 in Community Development (Environmental Quality) and $200,000 in Health & Human Services (Environmental Health).

 

Jones said the amount received from “fines and forfeits” is expected to be down by $80,000 “as more and more people are choosing to perform community service rather than pay for their traffic tickets with cash.”

Cutting costs

Jones said expenditures will drop by approximately 1 percent to $31,224,405.

 

He said it’s all a delicate balancing act: Expenditures are pushed up by the requirement that the county pay the second of three mandatory increases in payments to the state retirement fund. The county also is dealing with the effects of a 2.7 percent Consumer Price Index change that will affect salaries and benefits costs. Jones said that’s the case because the county’s agreement with the unions “only forgives the 2012 Cost of Living Adjustment — 2013 will be fully honored.”

 

Jones said he was nevertheless able to cut the expenditures through reductions in contracted services, supplies and interfund payments, “together with continued furlough days and staff reductions due to attrition making up the difference.”

 

He said that makes the whole thing work, including a tiny surplus of $47,017.

 

“But,” he added, “with the $1 million in one-time revenue, that will have to be dealt with in the 2014 budget process.”

 

Jones said the county is continuing to “be very frugal.”

 

“Over the last four years we cut many non-critical expenditures and eliminated new staff hires and froze replacement hires due to attrition when possible.” That has resulted in total staff reductions equivalent to 35 full-time employees since 2009.

 

He said the salary concessions agreed to by the unions were worth almost $2 million, “but those agreements will expire at the end of 2013 and will also need to be dealt with by this time next year.”

 

In the end, Jones said, the county will end 2012 with $10,100,000 in General Fund Reserves, with $7 million of that recommended to be restricted. That leaves $3,100,000 available to pay for urgently needed capital replacement projects, including what Jones called “the county’s outdated core computer system.”

 

“Until the economy gets better, we need to reduce expenses, or increase revenues, or some combination of both,” he said.

 

That includes spending the next 12 months determining which government services have the highest priority and if tax increase requests should be filed.

 

Commissioner Jim McEntire echoed those comments. “I want to start talking this year about the restructure. We need to start the music this year so we have the time to do some thoughtful, deliberative — and painful — things.

 

That’s required, McEntire said, “to deal with the reality of these permanent revenue reductions into the future.”

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