It had been sunny for about two weeks when Clallam County administrator Jim Jones said the county would need to dip into its rainy day reserves for 2009.
Revenue is down for the county. Jones estimated it would fall nearly a half-million dollars in the general fund in 2009 compared to this year, which had slightly less income than 2007.
In order to compensate for the loss of income, Jones and the board of Clallam County commissioners are looking at cutting expenses, but the cuts will not be enough to have a balanced income-to-expenditure ratio.
The county is likely to need to spend more than $6.3 million in reserves from all funds in order to avoid layoffs, ending programs and reducing its level of service to its citizens, according to a preliminary budget forecast Jones presented to commissioners Sept. 16.
The general fund reserve will likely see a dip of about $2 million.
Jones attributed a slow economy, reduced sales tax revenue and a cap on property tax assessments as the causes for the U-turn in revenue.
For about a five-year period, which tapered off two years ago, the county had experienced periods of high revenue and commissioners tucked the extra funds away know- ing the growth, building and sales booms would not last.
Jones expects to have $41.2 million in reserve at the end of 2008; $11.5 million of which is in the general fund.
"I feel positive that we have the ability to handle two years of operating as we do today, using some of our reserves to cushion the decreased revenue stream until we hit another upturn in local economy, which I think will occur before a national increase," Jones said, citing the dam removal and U.S. Highway 101 widening projects as likely economic boosters in years to come.
"My promise was that if we get to a year and a half from now, while constantly reviewing the budget, and find that we are not going to get an economic upturn, then we will have to start looking at making significant changes to how we operate."
Jones said in the long run it could cost the county more to lay off employees and end services only to rehire, retrain and restart the services in two years once the local economy is doing better.
"We are not going to let reserves get to a dangerous level," he said. "We follow these things constantly throughout the year and have the ability to change our forecasted spending to accommodate changes in income and unforeseen expenses."
Already the county has cut back on planned road projects for 2009.
The budget forecast is very preliminary at this point. Jones will meet with each department head in the coming weeks to assess budget requests beyond what already is in place.
Each department's wish list and the preliminary budget will be available online for review before a series of 24 public meetings dedicated to the budget's formation. The meetings start Oct. 13.
The wish lists are likely to affect the preliminary budget numbers. The commissioners have the authority to approve or deny any or all of the requests. However, Jones is likely to recommend approval of a few.
For example, the prosecuting attorney's office may make three requests - one for additional jury trial funding, one for books and subscriptions and one for a new chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney. Jones indicated the first two are expected increases in operating costs, but hiring a new employee estimated to cost an additional $128,000 a year would be a hard sell.
"While I have been here commissioners have typically said 'No' to most (additional budget requests)," Jones said. "It may sound boring, but the commissioners review each new expense, be that for a new employee or for a cost increase as small as a new scanner. Some may see the smaller expenses as a waste of commissioner time, but they have made it a part of their job to make sure spending doesn't rise suddenly, which is something a lot of county leaders don't do but probably should."
While Jones is setting the preliminary 2009 budget with staff and department heads, the commissioners must consider emergency additions to the 2008 budget.
They plan to hold a public hearing Sept. 30 on several amendments to the budget, such as funding the family therapeutic court, purchasing publications for the prosecuting attorney's office and receiving additional revenue from environmental health, homelessness and human health grants, to name a few.
"The supplemental appropriations have been included in the forecast for what will be available at the beginning of 2009," Jones said.
The Sept. 30 public hearing will be in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles, during the commissioners' regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at
For more information, visit www.clallam.net.
Clallam County's preliminary budget
for all fund accounts by program for 2009
• General government $20.1 million
• Public works $18.5 million
• Law and justice $15.6 million
• Public health $5.71 million
• Land use, development $2.21 million
• Internal services $1.95 million
• Other services $2.97 million
Total $70.0 million
• General government $6.55 million
• Public works $20.8 million
• Law and justice $26.6 million
• Public health $7.60 million
• Land use, development $4.01 million
• Internal services $4.10 million
• Other services $3.80 million
Total $76.3 million
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