No new taxes, Clallam County leaders state

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County policymakers have no desire to ask the public to approve new taxes despite the rising cost of law and justice services, commissioners said in a State of the County report.

Commissioners Mike Chapman, Jim McEntire and Mike Doherty said in the one-page memo that the “only realistic path forward is to look for more ways to manage costs, implement definable performance measures in vital service areas, reduce service hours (with resultant salary cuts), and/or cut lesser priority programs and services.”

The State of the County was approved on the consent agenda in Tuesday’s business meeting.

Clallam County has stood firm on a no-new-taxes policy throughout the recession that began in 2008.

Since 2009, the county has shed the equivalent of nearly 33 full-time positions through attrition and some layoffs.

In late 2011, the unions that represent most of the county’s 380 employees agreed to two-years worth of wage concessions to save jobs. Those allowances will expire at the end of this year.

Even with concessions — mainly salary cuts and 16 unpaid furlough days for hourly workers — the average total wage and benefit package for county employees has climbed 8.5 percent from $68,468 to $74,304 since 2008.

“Unlike most counties in our state which made very large staff and service reductions in public safety and law and justice programs, we have been able to get by, using a little more than $2.6 million in savings, trimming around the edges, while leaving law and justice programs pretty much untouched,” the report says.

Law and justice costs in the county’s $30.9 million general fund have spiked 41 percent since 2000, while other operational spending ebbed by 14 percent.

“We have come to the realization that this is the new normal,” commissioners said in their report.

“Revenue projections over the next several years (not including the high uncertainty about continuation of federal pass-thru grants from the state) are not likely to keep up with the projected growth in the costs of felony law and justice alone — much less in all of the service areas we are responsible to perform on behalf of our citizens.”

The State of the County stemmed from discussions that McEntire recently had with elected officials and department heads, some of whom were uncertain about the board’s stance on county finances.

Chapman, the board chairman, said the report will assist County Administrator Jim Jones set parameters for the 2014 budget.

“At least for this commissioner, it just is time to say this isn’t the time to move forward with new taxes,” Chapman said after the meeting.

“We have to live within our means. Law and justice continues to be the highest priority, and public safety.”

Chapman, who campaigned on a no-new-taxes pledge before he was re-elected to a fourth four-year term last November, said “the public doesn’t have more money to give us.”

“They’re tapped out,” he said.

“Look at the economy around here.”

Of the county’s $10.5 million general fund reserve, $7.5 million is restricted for emergencies.

The $3 million in unrestricted reserves “can be used as needed to cushion the ups and downs of the economy as they come up.”

A draft version of the State of the County report, along with supporting budget spreadsheets and pie charts, is available online at www.clallam.net/bocc.

Click on “Meeting Agendas & Minutes” and download the work session packet.

“At the beginning of 2013, Clallam County is well managed, has exemplary staff, and fiscally in as good or better shape, than most other counties in Washington,” a slightly modified version of the report says.



Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 19. 2013 6:12PM
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