County budget up 8 percent, Sheriff benefits

Sheriff Mike Hawley is the biggest beneficiary of Island County’s improving economy.

Hawley’s department received the biggest increase in the 2006 budget the Island County commissioners will present to the public in a hearing set for Dec. 5.

The Sheriff’s Office will receive an additional $201,000 to pay the wages and benefits for three new deputies. And the commissioners threw in an additional $103,00 for three new sheriff’s cars.

Budget hearings this year were conducted without the hair pulling and cries of distress so prevalent in recent years, when the commissioners were weighing which cuts would be least painful.

This year, there was some extra money to spread around.

“The last three or four years we have been behind right from the get-go,” said Commissioner Mike Shelton in a recent meeting, explaining that once cost of living increases were factored in for staff, there was no money left over for extras. “But this year we have some extra money.”

A number of county positions were cut in the aftermath of Initiative 695 in 1999, the “$30 license tab initiative” which slashed funding to local governments, and Initiative 747 in 2001 which limited property tax increases to one percent without a vote of the people.

But things have turned around with the economy. A building boom in Island County produced $275 million worth of new construction in the last year, Assessor Tom Baenen told the commissioners. “We’re the eleventh most valuable county in the state,” he said.

All that new construction means an increased flow or property tax revenue to the county. “We’re now in a position to do more than we’ve been able to do in the past,” Shelton said.

Budget Director Elaine Marlow said Thursday that the 2006 current expense budget, which funds most county operations outside of roads, is up about eight percent over 2005, to just over $22 million.

“It genuinely is a good year,” Marlow said, citing increased revenue from new construction and sales taxes.

Property taxes generated by new construction are expected to pump an additional $200,000 into the current expense budget.

“Sales taxes were significantly higher than anticipated,” Marlow added. The sales tax is expected to produce $345,000 in extra revenue next year.

“More people are going shopping,” Marlow said, pointing to personnel growth at the Navy base and the many other new residents of Whidbey and Camano islands.

The commissioners plan to increase property taxes by the one percent legal limit, which will bring in an additional $63,690 for the current expense fund. The resolution to be presented at the Dec. 5 hearing notes that the amount “is lower than the inflationary rate of 2.541 percent.”

One extra expense next year will be operation of the new Juvenile Detention Center which is slated for completion next spring. Marlow said operating the facility is expected to cost $910,000. The voter-approved sales tax to support the facility will generate an anticipated $840,000, leaving current expense to cover the difference. “We don’t know the staffing level yet,” Marlow said, cautioning that these numbers are only estimates.

The Sheriff’s Office wasn’t the only beneficiary of this year’s budget. Other new positions funded included $48,000 for a District Court probation officer and $52,000 for a plans examiner. In several cases, the extra funding simply restored cuts made during hard times. Seem the accompanying charts for a sampling of spending proposals that were, and were not, approved.

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