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County to spend $69 million

Island County commissioners approved a $69 million county budget Monday.

The move requires the use of approximately $347,000 in reserves to keep the budget balanced. This leaves the county with approximately $1.2 million in reserve, Budget Director Elaine Marlow said.

This represents a 9.3 percent increase over last year’s $63-million budget.

The commissioners also approved 1-percent hikes in the County Roads levy and the county current expense levy. The Conservation Futures levy will remain at its mandated 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The board approved the hikes despite some opposition from community members.

“I know my budget doesn’t expand because I feel I need something,” Clinton resident Reece Rose told the commissioners. “What is the overwhelming need for the Conservation Futures Fund?”

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton described the need as the desire to preserve open space in Island County which has come at a cost, and the conservation funds brought in barely cover them.

“That’s a fair question Reece and its one that I struggle,” Shelton responded.

Rose ran a losing campaign against Shelton in this year’s Republican primary election.

Budget Director Marlow said the citizens of the county have been very vocal about protecting open space.

“One of the things the commissioners have to balance is there are a lot of other citizens who feel open space is very important,” Marlow said.

The alternatives to not taking the levy increases would be to cut services.

“I firmly believe it’s up to voters to work with their officials to decide what programs they can do without,” Marlow said. “Nobody wants to lose a deputy ... having to wait 20 minutes when you’re scared is a long time.”

The increase of the roads levy means approximately $61,000 in new money and roughly the same for the current expense levy.

The county will also see a 3 percent increase in levy revenue as a result of new construction, Marlow said.

The 2005 budget includes the recreation of a position in the WSU Extension Services Program and a new assessor’s trainee.

“I think what this budget does is it represents, to a degree, the restoration of previous cuts,” Shelton said Monday.

The county is also expecting a significant increase in revenues from sales taxes, Marlow said. This year, they will come in higher than was budgeted and the county is budgeting for an additional 5 percent increase, she said.

Island County was budgeted to use approximately $400,000 in reserves for 2004, but the sales tax increase means the county might use only $100,000 in reserves.

Public services continues to be the largest user of funds — 53 percent of the budget goes toward public safety, roads and public health. Only 8 percent is for administration, she said.

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