News

County Administrator’s budget proposal cuts deep

On Tuesday, Oct. 21, San Juan County Administrator Pete Rose submitted a $13.3 million dollar budget proposal to the council that includes cuts in every county department and reduces or eliminates some highly visible government services.

Proposed cutbacks include the lay off or reduction in hours of more than 10 percent of the county workforce, a 23 percent reduction in the County Health and Community Services Department’s budget, closing seven county parks and several public restroom facilities, reductions in programs for youths and seniors, increased fees for farmers markets and for the use of county facilities for community events, and closing some county service offices on Orcas and Lopez Islands.

“This is by far the largest budget gap I have had to deal with in my career,” said Rose – a 28-year veteran of county and municipal administration. “The amount we had to cut was the equivalent of the combined total budgets of the Assessor, Auditor and Treasurer’s departments. The cuts we have had to propose will set the County Health Department, the Parks department and Juvenile Court back to where they were 15 to 20 years ago.”

When the 2008 county budget was adopted, Rose and County Auditor Milene Henley warned that little slack was being left in the budget. Historically, actual spending by the county had averaged approximately six percent below budget and revenues historically exceeded projections, leaving unspent cash at the end of the year. To sustain programs the County Council deemed essential, department budgets were tightened to within less than two percent of projected spending and roughly a million dollars of working cash reserves was used to balance the budget.

The Auditor’s revenue and spending projections through the second quarter showed that, assuming even a lower than average 4.9 percent growth in revenue, the county’s budget could be sustained with some modest cutbacks.

But the nationwide credit and foreclosure-fueled economic crisis grew quickly after mid-year. State, county and local governments, which depend on property taxes, and sales and excise tax revenue from construction and home sales, were hit especially hard. Pierce and Snohomish Counties in Washington had to borrow money to meet last month’s payroll. And in San Juan County, with 2009 budget preparations well underway, Henley projected that total available funds in 2009 will actually be lower than in 2008, primarily because of reduced sales tax revenue projections and reduced cash reserves.

“By law, the most we can increase tax revenue from existing property is one percent and that amounts to approximately $40,000,” said Henley. “That is less than our anticipated increase in gasoline costs.” In early October the County Administration confronted a difference between projected revenues and departmental budget requests of approximately $1.8 million – nearly 13 percent.

Among the early cutbacks in department budget proposals, Henley noted, was that requests for increased budgets for gasoline were simply cut in half, based on the dropping price of oil.

Rose said he began with formal priorities: (1) Public Safety, (2) Core and legally mandated services, (3) Long range planning projects that would bring the county into compliance with the State Growth Management Act, (4) Public Health, (5) Environmental and quality of life programs including parks. But in the end, all of those programs were cut back.

With 203 authorized full-time positions and 61 part-time and seasonal jobs, the San Juan County government is the County’s largest single employer. The proposed cutbacks affect approximately 30 employees, eliminating the equivalent of 20 full-time jobs. According to County Human Resources director Pamela Morais, all employees who are at risk of lay-off or cutback have been informed by their supervisors.

It will now be up to the San Juan County Council to review and ultimately adopt a balanced 2009 County budget before the end of the year. The council has scheduled additional meetings to review and discuss departmental budgets (See schedule A5.)

A viewable version of the budget is at sanjuanco.com.

The proposed ‘09 budget also includes:

– Five percent increase in building permit fees

– Two percent increase in wages and salaries

– 25 percent cut in CDPD; $477K

– 27 percent cut in administration; $212K

– 23 percent cut in public health; $332K

– Six percent cut in Sheriff’s office; $146K

– 33 percent cut in parks; $315K

To read County Administrator Pete Rose’s presentation of the budget on Oct. 21, go to www.islandssounder.com “News”

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