On Monday, the Board of Spokane County Commissioners unanimously approved a total annual budget of $441,372,742 for 2014.
The budget includes a 1-percent increase in property taxes designed to preserve existing levels of services and personnel.
During their deliberations, Commissioner Al French pointed out the continuing challenge of tackling increasing costs with shrinking revenues.
“We have diligently worked to contain costs, but unfunded mandates from the state and the skyrocketing costs for criminal justice and detention services make it difficult, especially when we continue to lose revenue through annexations,” French said. “That is why the Board of County Commissioners has taken on an initiative to share revenues with our municipal partners. We need predictability in revenue and a more rational way of projecting growth.”
Commissioner Todd Mielke added that the board is committed to keeping expenditures in line with revenues.
“The employees of Spokane County are to be commended for understanding the need to provide services to our citizens and live within our means,” Mielke said. “Most county employees have not seen a cost-of-living-adjustment in their salaries for the past three years, and have been willing to accept adjustments in other benefit levels to keep the county’s budget whole.”
Chief Executive Officer Marshall Farnell noted that the 2014 general fund budget of $142,029,453 will also see an addition of $6,598,464 million in grant monies from the state of Washington and the federal government.
He added that the county will have a strong budget reserve of $14,974,221, representing more than ten-percent of the General Fund, which will help maintain Spokane County’s AA rating with two of the top bond rating companies in the nation; Moody’s Investors Service and Standard and Poor’s. Both bond rating companies reaffirmed the county’s AA rating earlier this year, saying they were impressed with how the county has coped with the on-going effects of the recession and reduced expenditures.
Spokane County’s adopted budget incorporates a legislatively authorized one-percent increase in the property tax to cover inflation costs for existing programs, amounting to an additional $472,000 in revenue.
Mielke pointed out that while the legislature gave counties the authority to utilize this money for increased costs, it’s not enough.
“State government increased costs to Spokane County by three times that amount through increased workers’ compensation and employer contribution requirements. That doesn’t even consider the additional criminal justice system costs we’ve experienced,” Mielke said.
Criminal Justice and Detention Services is approximately 74 percent of the county’s annual general fund budget.
Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said the county has supported the implementation of strategic initiatives, such as lean management practices.
“We’re already seeing the benefits of management and front-line staff brainstorming and working together to improve processes, increase efficiencies and reduce operational expenditures. Long-term sustainability and continuous improvement is making a difference throughout the organization,” O’Quinn said.