County budget gets favorable review

Residents expressed varying degrees of satisfaction with Thurston County's proposed 2010 budget during a public hearing Monday night.

The directors of SafePlace and Together – which works to reduce youth substance abuse and violence – praised county commissioners for amending the proposed budget to restore funding to the Human Services Review Council. That funding had been cut from this year’s budget.

Local governments contribute funding to the council for distribution to social service agencies.

County Manager Don Krupp said the $50,000 was budgeted on the condition that the cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater also contribute funding.

Two speakers thanked commissioners for another revision, earmarking $143,000 for the specialized recreation program for people with disabilities. The county transferred the money from a portion of property taxes dedicated to a program to help people who have disabilities land jobs.

“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to say with your help, let’s keep the doors open,” said Dylan Kuehl, a program participant and volunteer.

Activist Arthur West, one of several residents at the hearing, was critical of the membership dues that the county has budgeted to pay two county associations that he said use public money without public accountability. West is attempting to recall the three county commissioners for making these payments, which he claims violate state law. A court hearing on his recall effort is set for this week.

Resident Bill Pilkey criticized the proposed budget as a deeply flawed spending plan that lacks financial discipline and foresight. Fellow resident Jeff Jaksich, a member of the citizens’ budget task force, expressed disappointment at the progress in enacting the task force’s recommendation, which he said could save the county money.

In a letter, Sgt. Dave Odegaard, president of the Thurston County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, implored commissioners to retain three deputies scheduled to be laid off at year’s end.

Further layoffs will put the public and deputies at unacceptable risk, he wrote. He noted an incident last week in which two inmates with 11 felony convictions between them nearly escaped from a work crew. A lone deputy spotted them, he said.

Going into next year, the Sheriff’s Office will have eight fewer deputies than at the start of this year if the layoffs are carried out, Sheriff Dan Kimball said. It will have 14 fewer commissioned officers, he said, comparable to staffing levels more than a decade ago.

The proposed 2010 budget totaled $317 million. The general fund, which pays for basic services, totals $73.9 million, a 2.2 percent reduction from this year.

The budget calls for cutting more than 58 full-time-equivalent positions. Most of the positions are either vacant or were eliminated this year and will be formally erased in next year’s budget.

The budget also proposes increases in charges for utilities, development permits and dumping garbage at the Waste and Recovery Center, the county’s main transfer station.

Water and sewer rate increases are proposed for the Grand Mound, Boston Harbor, Olympic View and Tamoshan/Beverly Beach utilities. At the hearing, numerous residents served by the Tamoshan utility expressed displeasure with the size of the proposed increase.

The county projects that new construction will continue to decline in 2010. Local government relies on new construction to secure more property-tax revenue above the 1 percent cap without having to go to voters. Sales-tax revenue will be flat, the county predicts. Property and sales taxes provide the bulk of revenues to the general fund.

This year, the county cut nearly 100 full-time-equivalent positions, reduced the number of departments managed by county commissioners and cut general-fund spending by $7 million to account for a precipitous drop in tax and other revenue brought on by the recession and collapse in the housing and development market.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427