With a 2-1 vote Friday morning, the Thurston County Board of Commissioners adopted a $296 million operating budget for 2014.
It features money to support opening the controversial Accountability and Restitution Center, but includes a whopping $5.4 million in cuts in the general fund and a decrease of nearly $15.7 million in the county’s other funds.
In addition, county employees will go without cost-of-living increases for a year and contribute more for their dependents’ medical benefits.
“It’s been a long, grueling, painful several months,” Commissioner Cathy Wolfe said, noting that the process involved negotiation with county department heads, elected officials, unions and workers. “ But I’m confident we’ve done everything we can to try and make this the best situation.”
Commissioner Sandra Romero voted against the budget package.
After the final budget presentation, she had proposed a last-minute amendment to save custodial services, instead of outsourcing the work beginning in July.
Contracting out custodial work will save the county $106,000 in 2014 and $750,000 a year beginning in 2015, according to budget and fiscal manager Robin Campbell.
“I believe we’ve not looked at all the factors in this shift,” Romero said, adding that some officials had brought up concerns that outsourcing custodial work could put public safety at risk, especially when it came to emergency operations.
“We’ve not worked with our employees to help find the savings. Let’s do it right,” she said. “What we do today — this is our last chance — is going to have lasting effects on our employees for years to come.”
Romero’s proposal was not seconded, so it did not move forward.
After the vote, Commissioner Karen Valenzuela said county officials plan to work hard to help the 10 custodians who will be affected by the cut.
“The goal is that none of you lose your positions with county employment,” she said. “We have the next seven months to help you find other jobs in county employment.”
In addition, workers who do not find other county employment by July 1 will be hired by the contractor and paid the same wage they currently make for six months, Valenzuela said.
Denny Finegan, with the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, a union that represents the custodians, said the outcome of the budget was “really discouraging.” He said he also is skeptical that the workers will be moved to other county positions.
“We get the fact that there’s a $6 million shortfall. We understand,” he said. “But to do this to the lowest-paid employees? We’ve asked to come in and help solve these problems and work things out.”
“If the work went away, that’s a bitter pill we could swallow,” Finegan added. “But their work didn’t go away. It was given away.”
Lisa Pemberton: 360754-5433 email@example.com @Lisa_Pemberton