Falling home values pinch upcoming South Whidbey parks budget

South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District officials are feeling the financial squeeze of declining home values as revenues for the 2013 budget are set to decrease by up to 5 percent.

The district commissioners convened at a special meeting at the district’s headquarters this week, discussing a budget with revenues that are expected to fall from $791,630 in 2012 to $752,110 next year.

Actual expenditures are proposed to drop about 1.2 percent, from $691,260 in 2012 to $683,190 in 2013.

The revenue hit is due in large part to falling property values. The bulk of the district’s income is based on its levy, which has always been set at a static millage rate of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The impacts will be felt throughout the budget, touching capital and maintenance expenses, programs and administration.

“Everybody is feeling the pinch,” said Commissioner Don Wood, who is also the board chairman.

The maintenance and operations budget, which covers everything from fuel and safety gear to road and trail maintenance, will be one of the heaviest hit. It will see an overall reduction of about $21,200, according to draft budget documents.

Last year, the board slated $127,600 for the day-to-day upkeep of the district’s facilities. If the proposed budget is approved, that number will be whittled down to an expected $106,400 for next year.

District Director Terri Arnold said she and her staff looked hard at ways to cut costs but there was just not much left to trim. Many line items, such as those that pay for electricity, are essential to running the district and can’t be reduced, she said.

“We’re bare bones, that’s for certain,” Arnold said.

Part of the hit to maintenance and operations is due to unavoidable increases in administrative costs. Labor and industry expenses have gone up while revenues are one the decline.

Administrative expenses, which includes salaries, benefits, various office and miscellaneous expenses, make up the meat of the district’s overall budget. The board approved a $460,330 budget in 2012 and is looking at $460,675 in 2013.

Salaries alone for the district’s six full-time and two part-time employees will total $285,965 next year. None are slated to receive cost of living increases.

The capital improvement and equipment budget saw perhaps the largest monetary reduction, falling from $101,278 in 2012 to $29,460 in 2013, but that’s largely due to the wrapping up of projects at the maintenance facility over the past year.

Finally, the programs budget will also see a hit, with revenues dropping from the $151,735 approved for this year to the $134,700 expected in 2013. The district offers a multitude of programs for adults and youth.

Several commissioners expressed support for keeping a closer watch on just how much time staff spends working on all the various programs as the district’s finances are not expected to improve anytime soon.

Having a more detailed picture of where resources are expended will help if the board has to make tough decisions in the future, Wood said.

“I just want to have good solid numbers so I can make those decisions,” he said.

The board is expected to adopt the budget next week. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at the district’s headquarters at 5475 Maxwelton Road in Langley. An approved budget must be submitted to Island County officials by Nov. 30.


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