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County OKs new $17 million budget

"The Island County commissioners gave property owners an early Christmas present Monday morning.The three commissioners unanimously approved a property tax increase of 2 percent along with the entire 2001 budget. The commissioners followed the lead of many counties and cities across the state in increasing property taxes by only a small increment, as mandated by Initiative 722. Although a judge has already slapped an injunction on the recently passed initiative, and the state Department of Revenue said this week that counties should ignore it, the commissioners said they wanted to adhere to the spirit of I-722.It's important for us to recognize that we need to maintain what voters have told us, Commissioner Mike Shelton said.But the small increase in the county's biggest source of income doesn't mean that the ever-growing needs of the many county departments will be entirely ignored. The approved $17 million general fund budget includes five new positions and a new $97,000-a-year visiting nurse program. The new positions include a Sheriff's deputy, a corrections deputy, a deputy prosecuting attorney, a building inspector, a night custodian and a half-time seasonal parks worker.Other increases in spending come from the commissioners' own must do list. They include paying increased medical insurance costs to the tune of $28,000; covering the extra $13,000 it will cost to transport juvenile offenders to out-of-county detention facilities; and beefing up the Assessor's budget by nearly $23,000 for simple necessities like postage, envelopes, computer programming and travel.But some of the department heads won't be left with a satisfied feeling after reading the budget. The commissioners also chopped numerous requests, including an extra staff member at the Auditor's Office, a senior planner for Community Development, a new lawn mower for county parks and a second building inspector.So how were the commissioners able to approve all the new positions and additional spending while keeping the property tax increase at 2 percent?The county is getting an extra $447,000 in revenue next year, but the commissioners still had to dip into their rainy day fund. Development, both residential and commercial, has translated to more cash for the county. More buildings and homes means more property taxes. Also, more purchases made at county businesses means more sales tax.One thing that makes this all possible is that it's been a healthy year for sales tax, Commissioner Bill Thorn said. Shop the rock.The commissioners also moved about a quarter of the county's $1 million unreserved fund balance into the general fund to pay for the additional positions, the new health department program and other stuff. That fund, which is classified as carry forward, is the money that is left over each year after the county pays all its bills. It accumulated to nearly $1 million over the last 10 years.------You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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