Increased Island County budget includes more money for law enforcement

Driven partly by an improved real estate market, Island County’s 2016 preliminary budget will increase by 8 percent in 2016, to $83.2 million, according to figures slated for a public hearing Dec. 7.

The proposed budget is balanced, as required by state law, and “includes more revenue, which means the county can provide more services to its residents,” said Elaine Marlow, the county’s budget director.

The 2016 budget includes an additional $774,000 for the county jail, which will pay for three new corrections officers, more training in medical and mental health care and more access to medical and mental health services. The budget will add a patrol deputy in the sheriff’s department and will increase to full-time, from half-time, a paralegal in the Island County Prosecutor’s Office. Expenditures by the public works department will increase by $4.9 million, covering several road projects and an upgraded septage system to handle waste pumped out of septic systems.

Several sources of revenue are expected to swell revenue in the coming year. Sales taxes, a reflection of the local economy and a bulwark of county finances, are expected to rise by 10 percent, to $9.7 million. They rose by that same amount in 2015. Given the strong housing market, revenue from real estate excise taxes is expected to total $2.5 million in 2016, about 20 percent of which will fund the county’s parks program.

The overall cost of providing medical insurance to county employees is expected to rise 8 percent, to $401,000. About 420 full-time county employees are budgeted for in 2016, up by 10.25 employees from the 2015 budget. Debt payments in 2016 will be cut by more than $600,000 because of early redemption of 2005 county bonds.

Expenditures for recreation and culture are slated to increase by 41 percent, to $2 million, and those for the environment will increase 23 percent, to $10.6 million. “Recreation and culture” includes parks, funding the Conservation Futures program, the 4-H and Master Gardener programs and maintaining the dock at Cornet Bay.

Only one activity category will see a decrease: mental and physical health expenditures will decline by 10 percent, to $6.4 million.

Projected revenue will increase in all but eight of the county’s 24 departments. Revenue in the facilities-management department will increase by 474 percent, to $713,000, as a result of changes to several departments’ structures, Marlow said. Revenue in the coroner’s office will climb 150 percent, to $50,000, because of state and federal grants.

The prosecutor’s office, which in August estimated its 2016 expenditures at $2.1 million, is slated to get $1.6 million.

Expenditures will rise in 14 departments and fall in the remaining 10. Facilities management will see the biggest increase: up 90 percent, to $3.2 million, because of an aggressive plan to replace roofs, carpeting, generators and other items in county buildings, Marlow said. Emergency management will cut its expenditures by 18 percent, to $170,000, because of decreased maintenance and operations expenses.

Projects budgeted by the public works department include improvements to Boon Road ($1.8 million), Crescent Harbor resurfacing ($866,000) and several road-safety projects within the county ($839,000).

Island County finances are organized into more than 50 separate funds. Each fund acts as a separate unit for accounting and budgetary purposes.

The trial-court improvement fund is slated to increase by 260 percent in 2016, to $44,500, to replace equipment.

By far the largest fund is the one for current expenses, which will increase by 5 percent, to $27.9 million. That fund pays general operating expenses for the assessor, auditor and other departments.