Recession takes toll on Walla Walla County 2010 budget

Declines in housing and construction and lower interest rates have pushed revenue down, officials say.

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WALLA WALLA -- The economic recession has left its mark on the new Walla Walla County budget.

Commissioners approved the reduced 2010 budget Monday along with resolutions for the coming year's property tax, road and emergency medical service levies.

According to figures provided by County Auditor Karen Martin, the projected ending balance for next year will be about $76 million, about 6.6 percent below last year's projected total of $81.4 million.

The beginning fund balance is about $24.4 million with revenues projected at about $51.6 million. Expenditures are projected to total about $55 million, leaving an estimated ending fund balance of about $21 million.

The decline in housing and construction along with dropping interest rates for investments are among the major reasons for the drop in revenues, county officials said.

"We don't have new construction (which has) kept us healthy and helped keep the county on pace with inflation," said Commissioner Gregg Loney. "New construction is new money and it includes sales tax (receipts)."

Interest rates on county investments have also dropped steeply, said county Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner.

According to figures provided by Heimbigner, the county's investment interest for 2010 is projected to be $250,000, a 40 percent drop from the interest the county earned in 2009. The decrease continues a trend that started in 2007 when investment interest peaked at about $887,000 and then began declining.

The largest portion of the budget, 25 percent, is slated for current expense funds which pays for much of the county's day-to-day operations. The projected total for 2010 is about $19.2 million, a drop of about $5.5 million. The next-largest portion of the budget is the road fund which is projected at about $15.8 million, or about 21 percent of the total budget.

The third-largest portion, about $9.2 million or 12 percent, is slated for Human Services.

Commissioners on Monday also approved the 2010 property tax levy, road tax levy and emergency medical services levy. According to Connie Vinti, clerk of the board, commissioners voted to take a zero percent increase in the property tax rate and bank the 1 percent increase allowed by law for the future, if needed. The road levy was increased by one percent to provide funds for maintenance and the EMS levy, which is already at its allowed maximum, was also approved.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.



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