The presentation on the Walla Walla County budget process will be posted on county's website, www.co.walla-walla.wa.us
WALLA WALLA — Officials staged a fast-paced presentation on Walla Walla County’s finances Tuesday, but revealed no easy answers to a looming gap between expenditures and revenue.
The two-hour talk was “intended to educate people on how the budget process works, the thought processes to go into it and why the commissioners are as fiscally conservative as they are,” said commission chairman Greg Tompkins.
According to County Auditor Karen Martin, the 2013 preliminary budget is out of balance, with expenditure requests exceeding anticipated revenue by $1.9 million. A balanced budget for 2013 must be adopted before the end of this year.
Complicating this year’s budget process have been the collective bargaining negotiations between the county and three unions representing the sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers and courthouse employees. At Tuesday’s meeting Commissioner Jim Johnson said that at this time, it does not appear likely the negotiations will be completed before commissioners adopt the 2013 budget, adding another note of uncertainty to the process.
During the presentation, which was attended by about 40 people, county Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner discussed the county’s main income sources, property and sales taxes.
Heimbigner pointed out that two of the largest property tax sources in the county are the Boise Paper Solutions plant and Broetje Orchards, and if something happened to either it would have a major effect on county finances. That was part of the reason former county Commissioners Dave Carey, Pam Ray and Charles Maiden passed a resolution in 2000 to establish a reserve fund equal to three months of operating costs, Heimbigner said.
The reserve fund would give the county some time to adjust if the Boise plant closed or some other financial crisis occurred. “If one of those did go … we could ramp down slowly and not immediately hand out pink slips,” he said.
Following Heimbigner, Commissioner Perry Dozier discussed how the sales tax revenues are distributed and how the reserve fund is used to pay for unanticipated expenditures that crop up throughout the year. He was followed by Johnson, who discussed property taxes, the collective bargaining situation and other issues, such as budget amendments that will further deplete the current expense ending fund balance.
Dozier also discussed the Law and Justice Fund, which was established by county voters in 2003 and began collecting revenues in 2004 to help various law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, Court Clerk, Superior Court and Juvenile Justice Center, make up for revenues lost when motor vehicle excise taxes were sharply reduced by Initiative 695.
Tompkins and the other officials also emphasized that the vast majority of the funds in the county budget are already committed to baseline activities and mandated expenditures. The county has 56 funds, most of which are dedicated for specific purposes, while the general or current expense fund pays for the majority of the county’s day-to-day operations.
At the close of the meeting, one audience member commended the officials on how well they presented the budget information. “I have never seen a more concise explanation of any budget,” he said. “A lot of work went into making this understandable.”