Island County budget adds 2 jobs, 3 cop cars
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
September 21, 2011 · Updated 9:52 AM
The Island County commissioners don’t have any extra money to spend next year, but they were able to restore modest amounts of funding to a few offices by moving money around.
Budget Director Elaine Marlow said a change in state law allowed the county to fund the parks department with $170,000 funds from the real estate excise tax, commonly known as REET. As a result, current expense funds that had been used to support the parks department can be used elsewhere.
This is the first time in four years that significant cuts haven’t been made to the county’s current expense fund budget. The commissioners approved a draft budget last week that will be presented to the public in a hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 3. The commissioners held a series of budget workshops in recent weeks with elected officials and department heads.
In general, the commissioners decided on a status quo budget since revenues are expected to remain stagnant next year. But they were able to help out a few departments in some small ways with the funds transferred from the parks department.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks received funding to hire a part-time deputy prosecutor. He told the board about the difficulty his office had in simply ensuring that a deputy prosecutor was in court when needed. In addition, he’s in the process of prosecuting two suspects in a complicated murder case.
The commissioners also decided to fund a new position, an analyst, in the human resources department. All three commissioners agreed that the additional help was necessary in the beleaguered department, but Republican Commissioner Kelly Emerson wanted it to be a one-year position; she was outvoted.
Marlow stressed that the county’s greatest liability lies in the employees, whose salaries and benefits account for 40 percent of the budget. She said it makes sense to invest in the human resources department to ensure employees work efficiently, are treated well and have no reason to sue the county.
“Having a strong human resources department will save money in the long run,” she said.
Island County Sheriff Mark Brown asked for $1-million increase to his budget, though he knew he had no chance of getting the large increase. He said it was a statement about the reality of his department’s need following the layoffs of deputies. Yet he was unhappy that the commissioners “nixed” his request for any extra deputies.
Instead, the commissioners transferred an additional $125,000 from the county road levy to the sheriff’s department to purchase three vehicles; the sheriff hasn’t purchase any new cop cars in three years.
State law allows the county to transfer some amount of road levy funds to the sheriff’s office for the work deputies do in increasing the safety of county roads.
In total, the sheriff’s office will receive $750,000 from the road levy next year; the amount the sheriff receives from the fund has skyrocketed in recent years, meaning that less money is going to actual road projects.
Emerson, the lone Republican on the board, has been a vocal critic of the county’s budget since before she took office, but she said she was generally satisfied with the status quo budget. She said she was especially pleased that the sheriff will get increased funding, which she pushed for.
Emerson, however, argued against plans to increase property tax collection in 2011 for both the current expense fund and roads fund by 1 percent. Under state law, the county can only increase property tax collection for next year by a maximum of 1 percent, plus new construction and refunds, unless there’s a vote of the people.
The 1 percent increase will bring in an extra $75,000 next year, which the implicit price deflator — a measure of inflation — for the area was 2.5 percent for the year.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.