The 300 or so who attended the State of the County address at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley were treated to breakfast with a generous side of optimism last Friday morning.
County Commissioner Mark Richard covered a wide range of topics in the annual presentation intended to provide a sweeping overview of the previous year and a look ahead to projects, challenges and discussions that occupy a place on the county docket for 2010.
“The last time I was here, things were quite a bit different,” Richard said. “What hasn’t changed is the county’s continuing commitment to provide invaluable regional and local services.”
Last year began with the county facing a $13 million deficit. Richard described how a series of adjustments – including furloughs (unpaid staff vacation time), layoffs and the elimination of cost-of-living adjustments for nonunion employees all could be traced to the way “this economy is impacting local government.”
The county was able to save additional dollars by transferring some employees back to county buildings – the move reduced some $150,000 a year in leasing costs. Another $200,000 was retrieved through a more efficient use of utilities.
Richard provided a brief lesson in fiduciary basics, pointing out that 25 percent of property tax paid by Spokane County residents goes to support county services. Of that 27 percent, over 68 percent is dedicated to public safety.
The written report distributed at the March 12 gathering detailed the impact of incorporation on the county’s general budget. Between 2001 and 2004, a time span that included Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley breaking away from Spokane County to form their own cities, the county’s tax revenue dipped around 12 percent.
The 2009 budget checked in at $77,767,660 with $41,245,854 being generated through property tax. Sales tax revenue represented the next largest contributor at $34,255,178 with real estate excise tax accounting for $2,266,628.
The forecast for 2010 includes an increase in property tax returns of just over $1.3 million. A slight jump in sales tax ($475,288) is also included while real estate excise tax revenue drops by $36,628.
In addition to a beginning fund balance of 7.6 percent and operating transfers of 5.8 percent, the county benefits from grants, interlocal contracts, license fees other sources of income to reach a total revenue of just over $156 million for 2010.
Looking ahead to future capital projects, Richard said the search for a new jail site remains a top priority. The latest proposal includes a $113 million price tag for each of two construction phases and would feature a horizontal design built on a site yet to be determined. Richard said the public education campaign would continue throughout the year with a goal of having a funding initiative on the ballot by April 2011.
“My belief is that this construction and detention project is the most important project facing Spokane County today,” he said.
Also on the construction slate is a large-scale water reclamation facility that will serve a number of local jurisdictions including Spokane Valley. Richard described how the wastewater treatment plant would be a key for future development and the ongoing effort to eliminate environmentally unfriendly septic tank systems. Groundbreaking for the wastewater treatment plant took place last June on North Freya in the old stockyards just west of Spokane Valley city limits. Construction is expected to be finished by 2012.
Richard said he has been encouraged by some of the collaborative efforts that have taken place between the county and municipalities over the past year. He pointed to the Council of Governments – a group comprised of area leaders that meets regularly to discuss regional issues – and a combined study between the cities of Spokane and Airway Heights regarding a West Plains annexation project as two examples of local jurisdictions working together.
“Perhaps the (Council of Governments) most notable success remains the signing of resolutions that expedited completion of the North Spokane Corridor, the region’s number one transportation priority,” Richard said.