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County budget adopted in 2-1 vote

Island County Board of Commissioners adopted a $71-million budget 2-1 Monday with Commissioner Kelly Emerson dissenting.

Emerson said she did not support the board’s decision to increase property taxes by 1 percent, a limit that was approved by voters more than 10 years ago and is routinely implemented each year.

“I will be opposed to this budget,” Emerson said. “I did not need the 1 percent increase this year or last year. It’s a little too much increase for me.”

Having taken more of a hard-lined approach to the budget, Emerson was unsuccessful in rallying support for the few initiatives she proposed involving larger budget cuts.

Previous year’s rigorous budget cuts have contributed to the county’s current $9 million reserve fund. Revenues outpaced expenditures by $1.6 million in 2011, $1.9 million in 2012 and this year’s projection are for a minimum of $1.5 million.

Commissioner Jill Johnson discovered the large reserve amount and spearheaded efforts to remove a law-and-justice levy from the November ballot. The law-and-justice levy was originally placed on the ballot to help the struggling sheriff’s department return to staffing levels prior to the 2008 budget cuts.

The board used fund balance monies to hire four additional deputies and one correctional officer, as well as purchase two additional squad cars in the 2014 budget. The reserve balance is expected to stay at $10 million for the next budget year.

Still, Emerson said Monday that the county could have done a better job of planning for a shaky economy.

“Any negativity we see in our economy will deplete our reserves. I’m not convinced we’re in any kind of stability yet. To me we should be taking this opportunity to look at where we can remain sustainable (without the 1 percent increase).”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson commented that this budget process has been the “most quiet” in her five years on the board, with few people offering public comment. Price Johnson attributed this to the way in which the budget was presented this year, making the budget revenues and expenditures “easier to understand.”

“It seems that is an assent to the work we’ve done on this budget, and allowing the people to review it,” Price Johnson said.

Though the board was ready to adopt the budget  Oct. 7, they opted to delay the action to allow the public to review the Powerpoint presentation given that night by Budget Director Elaine Marlow.

“This has filled some of the most critical gaps,” Price Johnson said. “There are unknowns.”

“I fully expect us to do a budget amendment. It’s a work in progress and I’m happy to be able to support this budget.”

Johnson said using the 1 percent increase was “honoring the public” intended use of that measure, because as the cost of living increases, so does the county’s expenses.

“I think this budget is good,” Johnson said. “We have the capacity and we’ve been banking that for the past several years.”

The county’s $71-million budget comprises, in part, a $22 million operating budget, $21 million for staff, $10 million in interdepartmental spending, $8.5 million in benefits and $4 in capital projects.

For more information on the Island County 2014 budget and to review documents, visit www.islandcounty.net

 

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