County’s proposed budget nearly flat

The Washington County Board of Commissioners continued reviewing the county’s proposed 2014 budget Aug. 20. The board began its review Aug. 6.

The proposed budget includes a proposed tax levy that will result in the owner of a home valued at $207,000 – one that increased in value by 2.4 percent from last year, the countywide average for residential property – seeing a decrease of $4 in the county’s portion of the property tax paid in 2014.

The recommended budget has a property tax levy of $86.7 million, a 0.66 percent increase from 2013.

The levy is part of an overall $147.4 million county operating budget for 2014, and a $23.1 million capital expenditures budget. If approved, the levy increase would be the first county property tax levy increase in four years, after the levy was reduced in 2012 and remained flat in 2011 and 2013. A levy increase of up to 1.2 percent is allowed under state law.

The County Board will review budget details from each department before setting a preliminary levy Sept. 10. The final budget and levy will be adopted in December. Residents are invited to comment or ask questions on the proposals during the review.

Department reviews

At their Aug. 20 meeting, board members continued to review budgets from individual departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, the Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Community Corrections.

The Sheriff’s Office proposes a staff of 238.5 full-time employees, who cover community patrol, jail, investigation and special services divisions. The Sheriff’s Office oversees the county’s 9-1-1 communication center, court security, and the county jail, as well as the patrol deputies who work in the county’s communities. After adding two parks deputies to its force in 2013, the office proposes adding one patrol deputy in 2014. Trends affecting the office’s annual budget include the increasing costs for jail medical care and the increasing costs of upkeep for the office’s fleet of vehicles.

The office is proposing $28 million in revenue for the year, 79 percent of which comes from the county tax levy. The remainder of the revenue is from fees and from other governmental agencies. Of the expenditures, 75 percent is used for personnel, with 5 percent used for programs that help clients.

The County Attorney’s Office has a staff of 45, with 19 serving in the criminal division, 12 in the civil division, and eight in the juvenile division. The remainder is administrative staff.

The office’s revenue includes $4.2 million coming from the levy and $633,000 from non-levy sources. For expenditures, $4.4 million is for personnel, while the remainder is for services and supplies.

Trends affecting the Attorney’s Office work include a steady increase in the number of violent crimes in the county, while the office is working with the Department of Public Health and Environment to prosecute criminally environmental and health-related crimes.

The office has been striving to reduce its criminal case turnaround time, reducing the time in which the office responds to possible charges from 26 days to five days between 2009 and 2013. In the juvenile division, the office is seeing fewer cases referred by a law enforcement agency declined for prosecution, and an increase in the number and complexity of child protection cases.

The Community Corrections Department currently has 84.4 staff positions and plans to add one staff position in 2014 in its $9.5 million proposed revenue budget. That is 1 percent less than its 2013 budget, which continues a trend that has reduced the department’s budget by $954,600 during the past five years.

Of the proposed revenue, 70 percent is from the county tax levy, 25 percent is from state revenue and 5 percent is from fees. That is in contrast to previous years, when the state provided almost half of the department’s revenue.

On the expense side, 70 percent of proposed expenditures is for wages and benefits, 20 percent is for client-resident related support, and 10 percent is for operating expenses.

The department has had a 15-percent reduction in clients in the past five years, with 94 percent of the clients being in the low-risk category. The department manages the Sentence to Service program, which is an alternative to jail for non-violent offenders. The program provided 85,961 hours of service to communities in the county in 2012.

The department proposes adding a case management specialist in 2014 to streamline the department’s drug testing program.