Walla Walla County budget set to inch up

But commissioners plan to raise taxes in only one area: emergency medical services.

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WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla County commissioners moved ahead on the county's 2012 budget Monday, voting to have zero increases in property tax and road levy rates.

Commissioners Perry Dozier, Gregg Loney and Greg Tompkins did agree to increase the emergency medical services levy by 1 percent to keep EMS revenues at the current level.

The commissioners directed the clerk of the board to prepare resolutions on all three items for approval next week.

At Monday's meeting commissioners also held a public hearing on the 2012 budget. After taking comments, commissioners closed the hearing but postponed approval of the budget after county Auditor Karen Martin said she was still waiting for information from several departments.

Sheriff John Turner and Shanda Zessin, the office's administrative division commander, submitted a request to raise the proposed 7.25 percent increase in the Sheriff's budget to 10.6 percent. If granted, the raise would increase the proposed current expense budget for the Sheriff's Office from slightly more than $4.6 million to about $4.8 million.

Along with cost of living increases in deputies' salaries that were deferred in 2011, Zessin said the increase would allow capacity in the sheriff's budget to sustain four programs and contracts if state and federal funding for them is approved. The programs are the Marijuana Eradication contract, the Meth Initiative program, the Safe Boating Program and a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide extra policing at Sacajawea Park near Burbank during peak seasonal use.

The increase would also reflect a shift of funds from the Prosecutor's Office to the Sheriff's Office for a receptionist who is currently paid out of both budgets, according to Zessin.

Other speakers urged commissioners to use reserve funds to increase the sheriff's budget, but commissioners said that while they support law enforcement, the reserve funds are needed to guard against emergency and unbudgeted expenses. A murder trial "could be a million dollars gone in a heartbeat," Loney said.

One speaker, Al Scamahorn, a hay farmer with property on Locher Road, said he "appreciates the consensus for not raising property taxes."

Scamahorn said financial times have been very difficult, not only for him but many others as well and even a small tax increase can make a difference to people who are barely getting by.

"I just want to say for the little guy out here, it's tough," he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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