Saturday, August 30, 2014

Clatsop County's proposed budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year continues a pattern of belt-tightening to maintain county services with limited resources.  The proposed budget eliminates four positions and limits spending in other areas to account for flat property tax revenue collections, lower state and federal funding levels, and increased costs outside the county's control such as Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) obligations.

 

The county budget document will be reviewed by the Budget Committee at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 7 at the Judge Guy Boyington Building, 857 Commercial St., Astoria. Budgets for the 4-H and Extension Service District, Road District #1, Rural Law Enforcement District and Westport Sewer Service District will be reviewed Wednesday, May 8.

The proposed budget totals $54,601,700, representing a drop of $2,076,900, or 3.7 percent, from the current year's adopted budget.

Positions recommended for elimination are the Assistant County Manager position – which has been vacant since December – as well as a post in the Information Technology Division and two part-time Sheriff's Office positions.

The elimination of the Assistant County Manager position is part of a reorganization of administrative offices approved April 24 by the county board of commissioners. That plan is expected to save more than $260,000 in next year's budget.

Under the proposed budget the county's workforce totals 206 FTE (fulltime equivalent) personnel, down from 226 in 2010-11.

The personnel reductions are among several cost-saving measures the county is pursuing, including a change to a lower-cost health insurance program that – pending approval by employee bargaining units – is projected to save $300,000 next year when implemented as planned in January 2014.

The budget also recommends eliminating the annual $30,000 in funding provided to outside social service agencies so that county services can continue to be provided.

On the revenue side, property tax revenue is projected to increase by only 1.5 percent, while state and federal funding is expected to decline by $554,000.

Despite the cuts and savings, the county likely faces more fiscal challenges in the years ahead. In his Budget Message accompanying the 2013-14 document, County Manager Scott Somers warns that annual expenditures have exceeded revenue for the past three years. The cuts recommended for next year's budget will reduce that gap but not close it, with the result that the county will continue to draw more heavily on its ending fund balance without more savings or increased revenue. The ending fund balance, which includes unappropriated funds, contingency and reserve dollars left over at the end of each budget year, has shrunk as a percentage of the overall budget, and without a healthy balance the county is susceptible to unforeseen expenses, Somers said.

Spending decisions are guided by the board of commissioners' budget policies, which prioritize county services for funding and include, among others, the following guidelines:

·   No new staff positions or programs unless specifically approved by the board of commissioners;

·   Money saved during the year to be carried over to the next budget year;

·   No "back-filling" or replacing lost state or federal dollars with county funds.

The complete proposed 2013-14 budget is viewable on the county website, www.co.clatsop.or.us, and copies will be available to view at public libraries in Astoria, Cannon Beach, Seaside and Warrenton, as well as at the Clatsop County Manager's Office, 800 Exchange St., Suite 410, Astoria.

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