Early budget figures bring relief to Island County

For the first time in four years , Elaine Marlow delivered some good news about the county’s finances.

Marlow, the Island County budget director, presented her preliminary, two-year budget projection to the county commissioners, elected officials and department heads during a special budget session Monday morning.

Despite a considerable drop in sales tax revenue, Marlow predicts very modest budget surpluses at the end of this year, next year and 2013.

“I do believe this is overall good news for us,” she said. “I don’t anticipate major layoffs for 2012.”

Marlow predicted that over the next two and a half years revenues in the current expense funds will dip and then grow slightly. She estimates this year’s revenues at $21.2 million, about $21.1 million in 2012 and $21.3 million in 2013.

The expenses, she anticipated, will come in slightly under the revenues.

Based on current numbers, Marlow said the county could have a surplus of as much as $690,000 in current expense funds at the end of this year, but she expects the number to fall closer to $400,000.

For 2012, she’s expecting a $239,000 surplus, which should jump to $277,000 in 2013. These predicted margins between revenues and expenditures, she said, are “extremely thin.”

“It’s more of a sign of stability than anything else,” she said.

Again, she said the predictions are based on very preliminary numbers that could change in any number of ways. The sheriff’s deputies and corrections deputies, for example, are entering into binding arbitration with the county. A change in the contracts could eat up any surplus.

In an interview, Marlow explained that county officials have been in the cutting mode since planning for the 2008 budget. About $6.2 million has been cut from the current expense fund since then.

On Monday, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson noted that a key to balancing the budget was employees’ willingness to move to a less-expensive medical plan.

Commissioner Angie Homola unhappily noted that the budget projections were predicated on the assumption that employees won’t receive cost-of-living adjustment, though they will receive “step increases” for longevity. Marlow said an annual COLA costs the county an extra $130,000.

“It’s coming on the backs of our employees and I don’t think it can go on forever,” Homola said. “A lot of people are leaving.”


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