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Island County commissioners adopt $71 million budget

The Island County Board of Commissioners adopted a $71 million budget in a 2-1 vote Monday with Commissioner Kelly Emerson dissenting.

Emerson said she did not support the board’s decision to increase property taxes by 1 percent, a measure that was approved by voters more than 10 years ago and is routinely implemented each year.

“I will be opposed to this budget,” Emerson said. “I did not need the 1 percent increase this year or last year. It’s a little too much increase for me.”

Having taken more of a hard-line approach to the budget, Emerson was unsuccessful in rallying support for the few initiatives she proposed that involved heftier budget reductions.

Rigorous budget cuts in previous years have contributed to the county’s current $9 million reserve fund. Revenues outpaced expenditures by $1.6 million in 2011, $1.9 million in 2012 and this year’s projection are for a minimum of $1.5 million.

Commissioner Jill Johnson became aware of the large reserve amount this past August and spearheaded efforts to remove a law and justice levy from the November ballot. The proposal was originally placed on the ballot to help the struggling Sheriff’s Department return to 2008 staffing levels.

In place of the levy, the board used fund balance monies to hire four additional deputies, one correctional officer and purchase two additional squad cars in the 2014 budget. The reserve balance is expected to stay at $10 million for the next budget year.

Still, Emerson said Monday that the county could have done a better job of planning for a shaky economy.

“Any negativity we see in our economy will deplete our reserves. I’m not convinced we’re in any kind of stability yet. To me we should be taking this opportunity to look at where we can remain sustainable (without the 1 percent increase).”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson commented that this budget process has been the “most quiet” in her five years on the board, with few people offering public comment. Price Johnson attributed this to the way in which the budget was presented this year, making the budget revenues and expenditures “easier to understand.”

“It seems that that is an assent to the work we’ve done on this budget, and allowing the people to review it,” Price Johnson said.

Though the board was ready to adopt the budget last Monday, Oct. 7, they opted to delay the action to allow the public to review the Powerpoint presentation given that night by Budget Director Elaine Marlow.

“This has filled some of the most critical gaps,” Price Johnson said. “There are unknowns. I fully expect us to do a budget amendment. It’s a work in progress and I’m happy to be able to support this budget.”

Johnson said using the voter-approved 1 percent increase was “honoring the public” intended use of that measure, because as the cost of living increases, so does the county’s expenses.

“I think this budget is good,” Johnson said. “We have the capacity and we’ve been banking that for the past several years.”

The county’s $71 million budget is comprised of, in part, a $22 million operating budget or general fund, $21 million for staff, $10 million in interdepartmental spending, $8.5 million in benefits and $4 million in capitol projects.

In other news, Marlow, who has served as both the county’s budget director and clerk of the board since 2011, relinquished her clerk role at Monday’s meeting. While retaining her role as budget director and general services director, board clerk responsibilities will be taken over by Debbie Thompson, who has served as the deputy clerk for the past few years.

For more information on the Island County 2014 budget, and to review documents, visit www.islandcounty.net

 

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