County preparing budget cuts of $6 million

Officials considering wage freezes, trimming of nonessential programs

lpemberton@theolympian.comOctober 28, 2013 

Next year’s budget includes a big-ticket item: The opening of the county’s Accountability and Restitution Center.

STEVE BLOOM; STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Thurston County officials are proposing nearly $6 million in cuts for the 2014 budget cycle.

“We are pretty much trimming out everything that’s not essential and focusing on the must-dos,” said Sandra Romero, chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners.

A public hearing is scheduled Tuesday on the county’s preliminary 2014 general fund expenditures, which is $90.5 million, down about 2 percent from 2013.

If the budget is approved, the county will have an ending fund balance that’s “responsible” and allows officials to move into 2015 with enough cash flow to run the operation, according to county manager Cliff Moore.

Thurston County’s overall budget is complex. It is made up of 77 funds, including ones that are dedicated to special projects such as roads or public health and the general fund overseen by the county commissioners. All together, the county’s proposed expenditures for 2014 are $290.8 million, down from $316.6 million in 2013.

About 46 percent of the general fund is collected through property taxes. An additional 13 percent comes from sales tax, which has decreased since the start of the Great Recession.

“Even though the economy is in recovery, it’s recovering very slowly and the revenues are just not enough to support the current level of services,” said county budget and fiscal manager Robin Campbell.

In addition, the county is beginning to feel a pinch from the federal government’s sequestration, particularly in grants and funding for public health services, she said.

However, next year’s budget also includes a big-ticket item: The opening of the county’s Accountability and Restitution Center.

“It’s built, it’s ready to go, everything is in place,” Romero said. “… The sheriff needs to hire a few more corrections officers and we’re in there.”

Every department in the county — with the exception of the Coroner’s Office and the Office of Assigned Counsel — is taking some type of cut, Romero said.

In preparation for the budget, managers were asked to go through an exercise where they created a budget with reductions of 5 percent and 10 percent for their department.

“Some did a great job finding those, and some we had to dig a little deeper,” Romero said.

Among the cuts that have been proposed:

 • Salary freezes. “We’re currently working with our labor unions to see if there are any possibilities for savings in the area of employee compensation,” said Campbell. “We’re talking about the possibilities of no cost-of-living increases, and a greater share of medical benefits” paid by employees.

 • Outsourced custodial services. County custodians provide services to 19 buildings. Removing those workers from the payroll and selecting a contractor to perform the work “would save the county anywhere from $400,000 to $600,000 a year,” Campbell said.

 • Cutting back or eliminating summer recreational day camp programs, including one that’s designed for children with special needs. Romero said officials are hoping to partner with another organization to help keep some of those programs going but at a lower cost to the county.

 • Reducing support for the sheriff’s boat patrol, which patrols the county’s waterways, educates on safe boating and enforces boater laws.

 • Cutting back on travel to conferences for certain workers and combining administrative support positions in some departments.

Since 2009, Thurston County has trimmed its workforce by 146 full-time equivalent positions, consolidated 14 departments into eight, and made a one-time loan of $6 million to the general fund from the Detention Sales Tax Fund to meet cash flow needs.

But the county needs to rebuild its savings, and tough choices are necessary to keep the county’s fund balance healthy, Romero said.

“We want to make sure that what we do is sustainable,” she said. “We do not want to have a budget that’s just a Band-Aid.”

The final budget is slated to be adopted Nov. 15.

Thurston County expenditures by type of service

Law and justice: $75.52 million.

Social services and housing: $45.45 million.

Roads and transportation: $34.65 million.

Solid waste, stormwater and utilities: $32.92 million.

Internal services: $29.15 million.

General government: $21.63 million.

Emergency response: $21.25 million.

Debt and bond payments: $10.87 million.

Natural resources and land use: $9.21 million.

Public health: $8.68 million.

Recreation , parks and fair: $1.4 million If you go

What: Public hearing on the 2014 Thurston County budget.

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Thurston County Courthouse, Building 1, Room 280, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Olympia.

Information: County manager Cliff Moore, 360-786-5553; co.thurston.wa.us.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com Source: Thurston County preliminary budget presentation

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