PORT ANGELES — Clallam County, which is facing a $1.8 million structural deficit in the 2018 preliminary roll-up budget, is the best fiscally positioned county in the state, County Administrator Jim Jones said Wednesday.
He told about 85 people who attended the joint Port Angeles Business Association and Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday that Clallam County is the only county in the state that isn’t in debt.
“Of the 39 counties, I think Clallam County is in the best position moving forward,” he said. “There are several counties that are right now one murder trial away from not being able to have enough money to run their county.”
Jones said officials who worked at the county before Jones started 11 years ago had the foresight to build a reserve fund that has left the county in such a good position.
Clallam County is among about half a dozen counties that don’t divert funds from their road taxes to cover payroll, he said.
“We allow road taxes to be used for roads,” he said.
Jones said that in his 11 years, the county has not once laid off an employee to balance the budget. It has, however, not filled positions when someone retires or leaves.
(The county also has taken other measures, such as shortening the workweek for some employees.)
Though the county is well-positioned financially, Jones said, it feels the impact of having expenses increase with the rate of inflation while “revenues have been trapped at 1 percent.”
As the county works to balance its budget, Jones has asked department heads to collectively look for $1 million in cuts before their requests are considered.
Commissioners on Tuesday directed Jones to come up with a budget that leaves reserves at $9 million.
Jones said Tuesday, after making new estimations not yet included in the budget, that the county needs to find $500,000 to meet that mark.
Commissioner Bill Peach told the crowd that this year, the county has the opportunity to focus on building its reserves, which he feels should be “in the neighborhood of $9.5 million.”
“There’s a lot of counties that wish they were in our situation,” he said. “We’re in a good situation because the commissioners ahead of us planned.”
He said currently, commissioners are focused on figuring out the right amount for reserves.
Commissioner Mark Ozias said Tuesday he thinks the county should shoot for $10 million in the coming years.
Commissioner Randy Johnson told the crowd that the county needs to be prepared for financial hardships, like it was during the Great Recession.
He said the county dipped into about $4.5 million or $5 million into its reserves to make it through the recession.
Commissioners also urged people to approve the 0.1 percent juvenile justice sales tax that will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
The tax, if approved, is expected to bring in $1.1 million to fund the Clallam County Juvenile and Family Services facility at 1912 W. 18th St., Port Angeles.
Ozias said among the reasons they’re asking voters to approve the tax is because it has a specific purpose and it covers a mandated service.
He said the county should intervene with youths before they become adults and that intervention could save taxpayers money in the long run.
“It’s an investment that should be equated to a savings of lives and dollars,” he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.