PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners are poised to approve a $55.8 million 2018 budget that officials said maintains the status quo.
“It is essentially status quo with a few strategic enhancements,” said County Administrator Philip Morley during the Board of County Commissioners meeting Monday.
Commissioners will likely adopt the budget during their meeting Monday, Dec. 11, but could delay it until their Dec. 18 meeting if they want more changes.
The budget as presented shows the county losing nearly $7 million in 2018 between the general fund and other funds, and starting the year owing nearly $7.3 million for general obligation bonds and contractual borrowing.
The General Fund is projected to have $18,605,658 in revenues while expenditures are expected to be $19,313,187.
The General Fund revenues include $720,000 that is diverted from road taxes.
It includes $412,000 in one-time costs, including $73,800 to equip an additional deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
In the Other Fund — which includes 49 different funds — revenues are projected at $30,265,534 and expenditures are expected to be $36,469,651.
Morley told commissioners that the state’s model for funding county government is not working in Jefferson County and other rural counties.
He said that even with a 1 percent increase in property taxes county governments are allowed to impose on property owners each year, the county is effectively losing revenue each year because of inflation.
“The structural problem we have in funding county government is continuing to be a problem locally,” he said.
This budget shows the county starting 2018 with $1,217,611 as its unreserved fund balance. The unreserved funds are projected to drop to $1,103,666 by the end of 2018 and down to $138,163 by the end of 2022.
When the recession hit in 2008, the county tightened its belt financially while working to meet the needs of residents, he said.
During the meeting, officials said the county employs 8.6 percent fewer people today than it did in 2008. The county’s population has increased about 9 percent during the same time, they said.
While requesting funds Monday, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haas told the commissioners they have a difficult job in allocating funds.
“You’ve got 10 chicks in the nest and only nine worms,” he said.
Cynthia Koan, chair of the Jefferson County Planning Commission, echoed that sentiment while encouraging commissioners to better fund the Department of Community Development.
“It’s clear your job is impossible,” she said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler said that the county’s efforts to save money through recent years made this year’s budget season especially difficult.
She said there has been a build-up of department requests.
“We have been so careful with not over-extending that the built-up demand has really hit us this year,” she said. “It comes to the commissioners to look at when there are not enough worms. How do we make it go around?”
Kler said it is difficult for commissioners to look at every line item each month and welcomed recommendations from citizens who have ideas to save money.
Though commissioners are no longer accepting formal comment on the proposed budget, they anticipate changes to the budget throughout 2018 and they welcome ideas.
“It’s a plea to the community,” she said. “if you see ways for us to save money, that is what we ask you to share with us.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.