County reserves may cover deficit

The proposed Island County budget for 2005 will have more than a $140,000 deficit.

County department heads have finished submitting their proposals and that has the budget seeing red. Increases in salaries, wages and benefits combined with increases in operation costs have created the deficit, which is less than 1 percent of the total $20 million budget, said Budget Director Elaine Marlow.

In addition to the increases necessary to maintain current service levels, departments are still trying to rebuild from cuts in 2002. Eight departments are seeking an increase in staffing levels.

The county’s budget will top $20 million and could approach $21 million.

“That funds all of our services at the same level as 2003 and keeps employment at the same level as 2003,” Marlow said.

Marlow said that revenues for the county have been increasing at approximately the same rate as expenses. The majority of the revenue comes from sales and property taxes, which account for more than half of the county’s income.

Marlow said that the Board of Island County Commissioners will more than likely utilize its $1.2 million reserve to cover the shortfall and grant some of the supplemental requests.

“Given the fact that it’s less than 1 percent, that to me is a good decision to use the reserves,” Marlow said.

Commissioner Mike Shelton said that the commissioners would likely use reserves to cover the initial deficit.

“We probably will dip into our reserves,” Shelton said. “I’m assuming we’re obligated to fund that.”

The supplemental requests were in jeopardy, however, because many are not one-time expenses.

“The reserves are one-time money,” Shelton said. “Employees are an ongoing expense.”

Each department has submitted its list of people or items they would like to have in the next year. These supplemental requests total approximately $777,000. The Auditor’s office is making the biggest request, seeking to add two full-time employees.

Island County’s contracted public defenders are also requesting a sizable increase due to high case load. The office is seeking an additional $36,000 in funding. The last time it received an increase was 2002.

This year, the county will have to use less of its reserves than estimated, but the actual amount is not yet known, Marlow said. A spike in tax revenues will help alleviate the approximate $400,000 burden on the county, she said.

Originally estimated to increase by 3 percent, sales taxes are on a trend to increase by 10 percent, Marlow said.

The commissioners will begin making decisions on supplemental request by mid November and a final budget will be available for review by the beginning of December.

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