By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Last year’s negotiations for two years’ worth of union employee concessions — 16 unpaid furlough days per year and relief from 2012 cost of living raises — will ensure no new layoffs in county government for at least another year, County Administrator Jim Jones told commissioners Tuesday.
However, the county will continue to reduce staff through attrition and adjust grant-funded positions to a dwindling supply of grant money.
The county is projecting to take its annual 1 percent increase in property tax, as the law allows without a vote, for about $90,000 in new revenue.
No new sales tax proposals are being considered.
Jones presented a “preliminary roll-up budget,” which assumes no change in spending, on Tuesday.
Projected revenue in the general fund is $29.85 million. Projected expenses in the current services budget is $31.36 million.
“This leaves a $1,515,182 shortfall that we have to deal with, one way or another, by the time the final budget is approved in December,” said Jones while reading the executive budget summary into the record.
The three commissioners will adopt a balanced final budget by Dec. 11, possibly after the second of two budget hearings Dec. 3.
Revenue in the roll-up budget is down $1.74 million — or 5.5 percent — from 2012.
“General fund revenues are still being held back by the weak economy,” Jones said.
“The big changes in revenue are the cuts we are receiving from the state in grants and contracts for services, losing more than $900,000 in Community Development [Environmental Quality] and $200,000 in Health and Human Services [Environmental Health] from last year’s budget, together with a significant reduction [$80,000] in fines and forfeits as more and more people are choosing to perform community service rather than pay for their traffic tickets with cash.”
Projected expenses in 2013 are down $317,710 — or 1 percent — from this year.
The county is paying the second of three mandatory increases to the state retirement fund, dealing with a 2.7 percent Consumer Price Index change and preparing to honor 2013 cost-of-living adjustments for staff.
A $1.5 million shortfall at this stage shouldn’t come as a surprise, Jones said, adding that the average shortfall in the past four roll-up budgets was
$2.8 million, which translated into a $1.2 million-per-year draw on reserves.
“This is very natural and normal to be in a deficit situation at this time of the year when we’re not anticipating economic growth,” Jones said.
Clallam County’s budget shortfalls are not deficits because of a rainy-day reserve that was built up in better economic times.
Of the $10.1 million budgeted for next year’s reserve fund, $7 million is restricted. The remaining $3.1 million is intended for emergencies, such as replacing an outdated core computer system without borrowing money, or any other surprises that come up.
“I think we’re in a real good position,” Jones said.
Jones said all 34 county administrators that he regularly communicates with at conferences “would dearly love to be in the position that we’re in in Clallam County because they’re in a lot worse shape.”
Among the spreadsheets and charts that Jones provided was a staffing history that showed the county workforce shrinking by 35.5 full-time workers from 412.9 in 2009 to a budgeted 377.4 employees next year.
Union concessions will save the county about
$1.8 million per year until they expire at the end of 2013.
“We need to reduce expenses or increase revenues, or some combination of both, and make decisions over the next 12 months to determine major ‘priorities in government’ reductions and/or tax increase requests from the voters to deal with the reality of these permanent revenue reductions into the future,” Jones said in his executive summary.
Commissioners took no action on the roll-up budget other than to accepted Jones’ presentation as required by charter.
The county charter lays out the annual budget process in detail.
Jones and Budget Director Kay Stevens will meet with elected and nonelected department heads in closed-door meetings beginning Tuesday to discuss their budget requests.
A preliminary budget will result from those meetings, with public hearings Oct. 2-4 in Port Angeles, Forks and Sequim.
Department heads will get a second chance to pitch their budget requests in open meetings with commissioners in late October.
Jones will present a balanced recommended budget to commissioners Nov. 13.
Two public hearings will be held in Port Angeles on Dec. 3 before a final budget is adopted by resolution.
The preliminary roll-up budget and budget calendar are available at www.clallam.net under the “Budget and Finance” tab on the left of the site’s homepage.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.