County adopts status-quo budget

County commissioners adopted a $138 million budget for 2024 despite cost increases due to inflation.

Island County commissioners adopted a $138 million budget for 2024 this week that focuses on maintaining or improving services despite cost increases associated with inflation.

On Monday, the three commissioners unanimously approved resolutions that increased the county’s property tax levy amounts for current expenses and the Conservation Futures program by the statutory maximum of 1%. The commissioners elected not to increase the county roads levy but “banked” the 1% for possible use in the future.

During the meeting, Commissioner Melanie Bacon said the board decided on a conservative, largely status-quo budget partly because of concerns about a recession in the future.

“We were much more conservative this year,” Bacon said. “We weren’t applying frosting; we were just looking for genuine meats.”

In an interview, Commissioner Jill Johnson said the budgeting process was complicated by a 26% increase in the cost of liability insurance, as well as cost-of-living adjustments for employees and all the other increases associated with inflation. In addition, the county absorbed up to 10% in employee premiums for health insurance.

Johnson explained that each commissioner championed small amounts of one-time spending on projects that they felt strongly about. Bacon proposed a staff person in Emergency Management to focus on planning activities. Commissioner Janet St. Clair continued to champion extension of broadband and secured money in the budget to participate in a statewide project.

Johnson successfully asked for money to study the costs of expanding therapeutic court programs and programs designed to help kids navigate the court system.

State funding for Public Health will increase next year despite the end of most COVID-related grants. In fact, Johnson said the Public Health and Human Services departments receive little or no current expense funding anymore.

“From my perspective, this budget recognizes the priorities of government with an emphasis on public safety,” said St. Clair, who chaired the board this past year. “It’s supportive of the sheriff’s office, addresses public safety threats and enhances Public Health initiatives.”

Yet Johnson was not happy with the amount the state provides for public defense. The commissioners recently signed a grant agreement with the state Office of Public Defense in which the state provides about $57,000, while the county’s costs are nearly $1 million a year. Providing adequate public defense, she said, is the state’s responsibility as well as a constitutional requirement.