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County digs into budget

This is the time of year when the Island County commissioners become three Santa Clauses, checking lists more than twice to decide who gets what in 2006.

But it’s not toys these jolly old elfs are considering, it’s serious stuff. The sheriff wants three more deputies, the prosecutor wants a $11,000 raise, and Senior Services wants another $6,000, to name just a few of the myriad requests sitting on the commissioners’ desks.

The list of wants isn’t endless, it just seems that way when one peruses the preliminary budget document release last week by Elaine Marlow, county budget director. Its 460 pages details projected revenues and expenditures for 2006.

In current expenses there are approximated 80 sources of revenue to anticipate, the largest being $6.4 million in property taxes and $4.5 million in sales taxes. Smaller items ring up the total to $21.2 million.

While current expenses pay for the best known county services, such as the sheriff’s office, district court and planning, there are other funds dedicated to particular areas. The largest of these is public works, which has road tax revenues of $19.8 million, while one of the smallest is Diking District 4, which produces $2,000 in revenue. Total “other fund” revenues, not included in current expense, is $38.6 million.

The commissioners will keep themselves busy over the coming weeks by meeting with various department heads who will explain and defend their 2006 budget requests.

Those meetings have already started. Last Friday, the Sheriff’s Department made a presentation asking for three new deputies, which will cost $201,000 annually. Sheriff Mike Hawley also wants three new vehicles at $34,000 each.

In justifying the new spending, it was pointed out that 911 calls have increased 59 percent since the last deputy was added in 2002, and that position was later eliminated to save money.

On Monday, Don Meehan, WSU Extension agent, made his own plea for more county support.

“We’re frustrated,” he said. “We still do not have adequate funds to support our programs.”

One of those programs was the Ropes Course, which was dismantled for budgetary reasons. Monday’s agenda included an item putting the Ropes Course equipment up for sale.

There’s no way the commissioners will have enough money to satisfy all the department heads, according to Marlow.

“They never have enough money, but this board is very conservative fiscally,” she said. “They realize it’s coming from the taxpayers’ pocket.”

Marlow described the big budget document released last week as “my first pass” at estimating expenses. As more information comes in the numbers will be adjusted.

The 2006 budget will be worked on extensively during October and near its final form in early November.

By statute, the commissioners have to hold a public hearing on the proposed tax levies on Dec. 5, and adopt the 2006 budget before the end of this year.

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