Thurston County budget hearing draws a crowd

Commissioners hear support for custodians, requests to delay jail opening

lpemberton@theolympian.comOctober 29, 2013 

Ongoing funding issues have kept the new Accountability and Restitution Center jail complex unstaffed and empty. Thurston County Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney have requested the county delay the planned 2014 opening to help save funding for other public safety expenditures.

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer

Thurston County’s custodians often work after hours and behind the scenes.

Several of them attended a public hearing Tuesday evening to add some human context to a cost-saving item in the county’s 263-page preliminary budget for 2014.

“I’ve been here for 15 years now,” Richard Bedord told the Thurston County Board of Commissioners. “I know the security and these buildings. I know the judges. ...If you take my job, you’re not going to get my taxes.”

Officials are looking at several ways to slash $6 million from the county’s budget in an effort to help build reserve funds. Outsourcing custodial work could save between $400,000 to $600,000 a year, according to budget and fiscal manager Robin Campbell.

But it’s a decision that has serious consequences, said Denny Finegan with the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, a union that represents the custodians.

He said one of his biggest concerns is the security issues of bringing outside workers into the county’s 19 owned and leased buildings, especially the courthouse.

During his remarks, he urged custodians in the audience to stand up so that the County Commissioners could see their faces.

“These people have bills to pay for, homes to pay for, families to support,” Finegan said. “...They deserve to keep their jobs. They don’t need to be tossed into the trash like a bunch of garbage.”

Even though the economy is showing signs of improvement, the county’s expenditures have outpaced its revenues for several years due to the sour economy, according to Campbell.

The county expects to begin 2014 with $14.6 million in its general fund, and bring in about $83 million in revenue during the year, Campbell said. But its general fund expenditures are expected to be about $87 million. Officials forecast the county will have about $9.9 million to carry over into 2015.

“That’s about a month and a half of operations reserves,” county manager Cliff Moore said. 

Most of the general fund is generated by property and sales taxes.  

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

County Commissioners have asked every department in the county – with the exception of the Coroner’s Office and the Office of Assigned Counsel – to create budgets with 5 percent and 10 percent reductions.

Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza and Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim spoke at the public hearing, saying their departments cannot take such cuts without risking public safety. 

They urged the County Commissioners to delay the planned 2014 opening of the Accountability and Restitution Center and incorporate savings from that into the budget.

“I believe we, as a county government, collectively, should guide the timing of the operational occupying of the new jail,” Snaza said. “I am and have been committed to being a responsible partner in helping with the opening of the new jail, at a time when it’s clear that we are not placing a damaging pressure on public safety services.”

“We need to get into that jail, I agree,” Tunheim said. “I know that our current jail is continuing to deteriorate day after day. ...But I can’t understand moving into a jail at the expense of gutting the rest of the system.”  

The County Commissioners will meet with elected officials Nov. 7 for more input on the proposed budget. They plan to deliberate Nov. 6-8 and adopt a budget on Nov. 15, Moore said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com

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