County Budget: The Good, The Bad, and The Ouchie

“Ouch” was the watchword at Tuesday afternoon’s Grays Harbor County budget workshop.  Two of three commissioners submitted numbers in the 2015 Budget Reduction Proposals. No department was exactly thrilled with the trims suggested by Commissioners Wes Cormier and Commissioner Vickie Raines. But everyone played nice.

Some 12 to 15 out of 25 departments are being asked to tighten their belts. Proposed cuts range from $1,526 (WSU Extension) to $523K (Sheriff and Jail).  The biggest proposed cuts are in the Sheriff and Jail, the Prosecutor’s Office, and Facility Services or Planning & Building budgets, depending on whose numbers you’re looking at. Here’s the side-by-side:

 

County budget proposals 2015

Commissioner Cormier opened the special meeting with a discussion on consolidating departments (Assessor, Auditor, & Treasurer). He said he’d take the lead on the consolidation effort if that was amenable to the other commissioners. It was. Cormier’s goal is to have the consolidations done by August.

Commissioner Frank Gordon said he’d  like to “push forward” on the district court consolidation. He was green-lighted to do so.

Ouchies

The discussion then moved to line item budget proposals. Cormier said they’d go through each department showing proposed cuts and request feedback. Listed in alpha order, the Assessor’s Office was up first.

A Slap?

Assessor Dan Lindgren called Raines’ proposed $65K “a huge slap in the face.” He said he didn’t know where the cuts can come from within his department to reach that watermark. “I’m cutting every part of the budget I can to get the job done,” he said. “I’m being realistic. I’m doing everything I can, but I’ve also got a big job to do this year with the transition.” He said there’s “no way” he can cut $65K off his budget. Lindgren also cited $10K in bills carried over from his predecessor.

Commissioner Gordon asked Lindgren if he’d be able to take the roughly $20K reduction to his office proposed by Commissioner Cormier. That seemed an easier swallow.  Raines said she’d go with the $20K reduction if he didn’t spend more at the end of the year.

No Hand Springs

No one from the Auditor’s office, Environmental Health or Facility Services was exactly turning hand springs over proposed cuts. “Twenty-three thousand is a lot of money for the Auditor’s office,” said a rep from that office. Gordon asked if short staff days on Friday in which employees were sent home at 1:00 p.m. would help.

“We’ll shoot for that. You just never know” said Coroner Lane Youman of the $8,000 – $10,000 proposed trim to his office, citing uncertainty about what might come later in the year.

What We Can Make Work

Commissioner Raines clarified that “nothing’s in concrete. This is what we’re looking at.” She said the Board is looking at “what we can make work.” Citing a lack of feedback on budget solutions, Raines said she understands there’s “not a lot of wiggle room” in the current proposals, but they can be used “as a conversation starter.”

District Court, Prosecutor, Superior Court

Savings in the District Court budget hinge on consolidation efforts. The Prosecutor’s Office cited current savings in resignations and early retirements. It said Raines’ proposed reduction of $100K seemed reasonable.

Eighty percent of the Superior Court budget is salaries and benefits. 19.1% is spent on good and services, according to a department rep. The biggest portion of the latter is the jury budget. Its current cost-cutting measures include reduced mailings and shifting from paper to electronic resources.

Sheriff’s Office

The sheriff’s office, the single largest line item in the county budget, is being asked to trim $303,894 (Cormier’s proposal) or $523K (Raines’ proposal).  Its current budget is just under $10.5 million.  Sheriff Rick Scott said the sheriff’s office is open 24 hours a day/365 days a year. “We’re doing everything we can” to run lean said Scott. He added that, “We’re doing well, but one major disaster could change that.” Scott also noted that the county jail is “bursting at the seams” and spoke about the need to reduce the jail population. He said Cormier’s proposed cut is “more realistic.”

Raines recommended Scott reduce his budget by $412K – the halfway mark between her figure and Cormier’s.

A Spending Problem

“I’m not sure where the money’s going to come from,” said Treasurer Ron Strabbing of proposed cuts ranging from about $29K (Cormier) to $40K (Raines). He said he’d do what he can to reduce costs but also opined that the county has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Public Health was also asked to take a $25k reduction. Potential savings via early retirements and departmental consolidation were also discussed.

And So…

The meeting lasted about an hour. The lion’s share of commish questions and responses came from Cormier and Raines.

Take-away: most of the commissioners were serious about addressing the county’s $2.5M deficit. They did their homework. They were open to suggestions and solutions. As to who’s who in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, I’ll leave that up to you.

More tiramisu, anyone?

 

Photo credit: Creative Commons: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com, scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com

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