- Thurston County residents can comment on the proposed Thurston County budget in upcoming hearings. Thurston County Commissioners are considering the county's first two-year budget, and have published a preliminary budget for review. The 2017-2018 Preliminary Budget can be found on the county's website.
This budget is different than previous spending plans in a couple of ways- it is the first time the county will implement a biennial budget and the first time the county has asked departments and offices to make recommendations on where to allocate additional spending. In the month of October, after presentations by the offices and departments of county government, the commissioners spent many days in budget deliberations, carefully assessing mandated priorities and services to reach the proposed spending plan for 2017-2018.
Preliminary figures show an overall budget for the coming two years of $314.6 million for 2017 and $317.9 million for 2018. That compares to $303.8 million for 2016. The county's general fund budget is proposed at $98.3 million for 2017 and $99.2 million for 2018. The 2016 general fund was $93.8 million. (Please note- all figures are preliminary.)
In order to maintain the current level of services, programs and activities offered to the public, the county will need to place a portion of the fund balance in the general fund.
Assistant County Manager Robin Campbell told the commissioners that the housing market is up, sales tax revenue is about 7% ahead compared to this time last year and unemployment is about where it was before the great recession. However, the main source of General Fund revenue, property taxes, is still capped at 1% growth annually. That increase does not keep up with inflation that is averaging 3 to 5% a year for items such as health care, software and construction supplies.
County Commission Chair Sandra Romero says commissioners are striving to find just the right balance for the budget. She says the change to a two-year budget and priority based spending will help the process.
"We will be concentrating on those programs and services most valued by county residents. Looking at a two-year cycle will also help provide for accountability and transparency and better align the budget with strategic plans and goals."
Commissioner Cathy Wolfe says providing programs and services for an ever-expanding population is very difficult.
"Balancing the demand for county programs with the need for a prudent set-aside is tough. But we need those reserves in case the economy falters or we get more unfunded mandates from the state or federal governments. We also need to have funds to take care of county residents and infrastructure should we have an emergency like a major winter storm."
Commissioner Bud Blake says the budget discussions were passionate at times.
"I'm excited about the changes we have implemented in this budget process. We are hoping to improve financial stability and predictability. This is the first time we are using group prioritization, which has pushed us to make the difficult decisions that provide the largest collective impact."
The public has a chance to weigh in on the budget discussion at public hearings set for December 5 and 6, in Room 280 of Building One, Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW Olympia WA, 98502. People can attend just the sessions they want or all of the sessions over both days. The schedule is-MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2016-
1:30pm Law and Justice
4:00pm General Government
6:00pm Capital Facilities Plan
6:15pm General Hearing on any part of the BudgetTUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2016-
1:30pm Transportation, Environment and Land Use
4:00pm Health and Human Services
6:00pm On-Site Sewage System Management Plans- Fees
6:30pm General Hearing on any part of the Budget
The budget is scheduled for adoption on Friday, December 16.
Those interested in the preliminary 2017-18 budget can find details, and send email comments, by using the county's interactive budget device on the county web site Here.-30-