One of the most important responsibilities we have as county commissioners is preparing and adopting a fiscally responsible budget each year. This will be a difficult process for 2014.
In 2012 and 2013, due to inflation and other increases, the amount spent grew faster than the amount of revenue. Taking into consideration 2013 expenditures and early revenue forecasts for next year, we will need to trim about $6 million dollars from 2013 spending levels for the 2014 budget.
Six million dollars represents about 7 percent of the total county general fund. To meet this challenge, we asked county elected officials and department directors to prepare draft budget proposals outlining how they would move forward with reductions of 5 percent or 10 percent.
We have spent the past several weeks meeting with every department director and elected official. Every agency presented reduction proposals; many with 5 percent and 10 percent reductions.
There were also requests for additional money to support ongoing or new programs. Added together, the proposed agency budgets reduced the budget by less than $1 million. We will continue to work with county agencies to find ways to make these painful reductions.
Because more than 75 percent of the county’s general fund budget goes to support law and justice, any reduction in this area could be significant for the overall budget. As a result, the sheriff, the county prosecuting attorney, superior and district courts, and the Office of Assigned Counsel are examining policies and work processes.
They are discussing alternatives that could modify the way individuals engage with the criminal justice system, a promising approach that could lead to savings as early as 2014.
But these possibilities are “birds in the bush.” We have to adopt a budget with “birds in the hand.” Commissioners will spend most of October scrubbing all the budget proposals looking for savings, and we will continue to monitor revenue projections for 2014.
Even with $6 million in reductions, the county budget continues to allocate significant resources to ensure that our citizens are secure in their homes and community; that our food is safe and our drinking water is clean; that our roads are safe, and that we do everything possible to preserve our environment.
We will be moving forward on major initiatives from past years, including opening the Accountability and Restitution Center; continuing work on Thurston Thrives, our vision for community health; supporting rural economic development through our agritourism work; collaborating with our neighbor jurisdictions in implementing recommendations from the Urban Corridors task force, and developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to ensure the county is responsive to the federal Endangered Species Act.
We have scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 29 to hear from citizens. We need to know and understand our community’s priorities and concerns as we make final decisions for 2014.
The budget hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the County Courthouse, Building 1, Room 280.Sandra Romero, Karen Valenzuela and Cathy Wolfe make up the three-member Thurston County Commission.