County budget up 7 percent

The 2006 budget was approved by the Island County commissioners Monday in an anticlimactic climax to a three-month process of numbers crunching and public hearings.

The commissioners approved a general fund budget of $22,026,603, an increase of 7 percent from the prior year, according to Budget Director Elaine Marlow.

In adopting the budget, the commissioners approved the legal limit of 1 percent property tax hikes for the general fund, road fund and conservation futures fund. Commissioner Mac McDowell noted that the increases are “less than inflation this year.”

Also adding to the county’s coffers next year will be an estimated 7 to 8 percent increase in sales tax revenues as the economy continues to pick up.

McDowell said the new revenue allowed the hiring of three additional sheriff’s deputies and nearly two full-time positions in the court system.

Fourteen new employees will be hired to operate the new Juvenile Detention Center scheduled to open in March.

Commissioner Mike Shelton said those employees will be paid from the 0.1 percent sales tax increase voters approved in the late ‘90s to build and operate the juvenile facility. Combined with savings from not having to transport and house juvenile offenders off-island, the program may be self-supporting. “We’re hopeful it’ll be about a wash,” Shelton said, despite the cost of 14 new employees.

“Clearly it’s going to cost us more,” McDowell said of the detention center. But he noted the public approved the expenditure and it’s supported by the sheriff’s department and judges.

Besides, Shelton added, counties with more than 50,000 residents are required to have their own juvenile facilities.

“We’ll have programs to help these young fellow and ladies to turn them around,” said Commissioner Bill Byrd. “Hopefully we’ll produce better citizens.”

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