OLYMPIA – The Thurston County Board of Commissioners have a difficult task in balancing the County’s budget. Revenue restrictions, mandated expenditures, and reductions made by the State Legislature have contributed to the challenging task of balancing the budget while maintaining a responsible ending fund balance in the general fund.
The Board is contending with a combination of issues affecting the budget. While property and sales tax, the two main sources of revenue in the general fund, are growing, reductions made by the State Legislature and unexpected reductions in grant revenue resulted in total forecasted revenue being virtually flat; the growth is less than 0.1%. Office and department requests for additional spending authority increased by 3% for 2018 and approved budgets for 2017 and 2018 already exceeded revenue by about $7 million each year.
The County also has mandatory expenses that must be included in the budget. Providing indigent defense and addressing overcrowding in the jail are two mandatory components of the Law and Justice sector that are currently not fully funded. Law and Justice currently accounts for about 75% of the county general fund. Rising personnel costs, including the increased cost of medical benefits, also contributed to growing costs.
After considering the minimum necessary to maintain current services at current levels, the Board was left with a general fund shortfall of $1.4 million in 2018. Office and departments were asked to take a very close look at their revenues, expenditures, and balances.
The review found money in the county’s Unemployment Compensation Fund that is more than will be needed to pay future claims. The budget office determined that $2 million could be returned to the funds that paid into the account, filling the shortfall gap for the 2017-2018 budget.
This addresses the gap for the 2017-2018 budget shortfall but does not solve the long-term budget issue. As the County begins planning the next biennial budget (2019-2020), the Commissioners will work with the departments and offices to address the imbalance between revenue and expenditures, and build a responsible, sustainable balance in the general fund.