Commissioners ink $103.8 million ‘status quo’ budget

On Monday, Island County commissioners unanimously approved the 2019 budget, which included funding for two large facility projects and staff wage increases.

The budget totals $103.8 million.

Budget Director Elaine Marlow called the document, which is an 8 percent increase over 2018, a “status quo budget.”

Commissioners also voted to adopt 1 percent increases in current expense and county road property tax levies. Each increase is less than the rate of inflation and will add approximately $84,400 and $87,800 for current expense and road funds, respectively.

The increase is related to what the county collected last year and not associated with assessed property value.

As they did in 2018, commissioners chose not to increase the Conservation Futures levy amount.

This levy, which funds land preservation, will continue to be taxed at the same rate as last year.

The fund will also receive an estimated $6,000 from new construction revenue.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat, supported a 1 percent increase, but said she was glad the commissioners could come to a compromise to include new construction revenue.

Commissioner Jill Johnson, a Republican, agreed.

“I think this keeps the program alive without having it grow too fast or too far,” Johnson said.

The commissioners allocated $87,000 for a new full-time budget manager position to help transition to a new model of budgeting and continue to create the document each year, instead of Marlow, .

The commissioners want to move toward creating a two-year spending plan that can be adjusted every year, called a biennial budget.

“That helps everybody plan ahead,” Marlow said.

The commissioners also want to use more metrics to prioritize funding decisions. Around $25,000 was set aside for “strategic planning” to support this shift.

Additionally, commissioners approved an epidemiologist position in the public health department.

This position is focused on obtaining and synthesizing data related to public health outcomes.

Marlow said this data will help guide future decisions and determine effectiveness of public health and human services programs.

Johnson said during Monday’s public hearing that outcomes are always “at the heart of” the commissioners’ decisions, but “it’s just finding the right mechanism to communicate that to the public.”

Two major facilities projects are included in the 2019 budget.

A new Camano Annex and the regional crisis stabilization center in Oak Harbor are estimated around $5 million each.

The Camano government building construction will be paid for by real estate excise taxes.

The stabilization center planned for Oak Harbor is funded by state money and a grant from the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization.

The facility will offer short-term care for individuals in a chemical dependency or mental health crisis.

“In the long run, it will save the taxpayers money because it’s more expensive to have people in our law-and-justice system than to have them in treatment programs,” Marlow said.

Johnson emphasized the county’s investment in health and safety, noting that 60 percent of the county’s current expense money is spent on law and justice.

“Additionally, we’re putting more money toward some of those human services programs,” Johnson said, “which is, arguably in many cases, an extension of law and justice because our goal is to try and keep people out of that system, which does cost us more.”

Within the corrections division, commissioners added $20,000 in contingency funding should the county decide to contract with Yakima County Jail to house inmates when the Coupeville facility is at capacity.

Island County is still in contract negotiations regarding that arrangement and a final decision hasn’t been made.

Contingency funding was allocated to multiple departments for “succession planning” in anticipation of a number of longtime staff members’ retirements.

“The graying of the public workforce is a consideration that we have taken very seriously,” Price Johnson said Monday.

County employees all received a 2-percent cost-of-living increase, and department heads’ wages were increased to reach $100,000 if the individual wasn’t already at the six-figure mark.

The commissioners stressed the importance of keeping wages competitive with comparable public employment positions.

“I think what you see is a prioritization in making sure that this county moves forward very stable, very focused on what our service needs are,” Johnson said Monday shortly before the vote.

“There’s not a lot of program expansion; what there are, are investments in continuing what we already do.”