Thurston County budget analysts today unveiled the county's preliminary 2011 budget, marking the first step of the county's formal annual budget process. ###
The $276 million preliminary proposal would enable Thurston County to maintain its current level of programs and services without the painful budget cuts enacted over the past several years. According to Commission Chair Sandra Romero, those previous cuts have granted Thurston County a welcome, but temporary, reprieve.
"The tough decisions we've made in order to live within our means have put Thurston County in a much better position this year," said Romero. For example, from 2008 to 2010, Thurston County Commissioners cut $5.3 million from the county's general fund, cut the equivalent of 146 full-time county jobs, and consolidated from 14 to eight the number of county departments that report to the Board of Commissioners. The county remains under a hiring freeze, and there will be no cost-of-living increases for county staff.
Thurston County budget analysts predict Thurston County will end 2010 with financially responsible fund balances. "The budget we adopt for 2011 must also prepare us for the future," said Romero.
The preliminary budget represents a launching pad for future budget deliberations and public hearings that will take place over the next several months. Thurston County Commissioners will consider additional policy measures to address unmet needs and increasing demands for county services. For example, commissioners will continue to explore options for using Thurston County's nearly-completed Accountability and Restitution Center and for maintaining infrastructure. The county must also factor in falling financial support from state and local governments in areas such as public health, social services, law and justice, and transportation.
Although Thurston County's 2011 budget deliberations will be less painful than in years past, County Manager Don Krupp predicts rough waters ahead in 2012 as the county continues to face sluggish tax revenues and a tax structure that fails to keep pace with a growing population.
Property and sales taxes provide most of the revenue for the county's general fund, which supports core county services that do not have their own dedicated funding sources. Property tax growth, however, is limited to one percent per year while operational costs typically increase by three to five percent per year during a normal economy. Thurston County receives only 11 cents out of every dollar collected in property tax revenue and the county's population increases by 5,000 to 6,000 each year. State layoffs will also take their toll on our county's economy, Krupp predicted. "Our greatest challenge is to strike a balance between the needs of county citizens and the money to pay for them," he said.
Now that county commissioners have the preliminary budget in hand, they will work with offices and departments of county government to refine the spending plan. A public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 in room 280 of Building One of the Thurston County Courthouse. Between now and the hearing, Thurston County residents are encouraged to submit their comments to:
Board of County CommissionersThurston County Courthouse2000 Lakeridge Drive S.W.Olympia, WA 98502
Comments may also be sent by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Budget materials are available online by clicking the "budget" link on the right-hand navigation bar on www.co.thurston.wa.us.