Washington County budget gets an OK
Washington County is planning to spend a little less overall in the next budget, although there will be more employees and more money for some services.
The plan won approval Thursday, May 17, from the elected commissioners and appointed public members of the county budget committee. The next step is on June 19, when the commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget for the year starting July 1.
Overall spending from all funds will be about $1.2 billion, but the total will drop $37 million (about 3 percent) from the current budget, largely because some major building improvements are or nearly complete.
"In most government agencies, you don't see that," said Bonnie Hadley, a public member of the budget committee who praised the county staff. "You do a wonderful job."
The budget does envision the addition of 33 positions to a full-time workforce of 2,050, up about 2 percent. The operating budget is up 6 percent, from $578.6 million to $610.7 million.
However, property tax rates will remain stable.
The budget assumes no change in the county's permanent tax rate of $2.25 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The county also has two local-option levies — for law enforcement and library services, at 42 cents and 22 cents — that are up for renewal in 2021.
Growth in taxable property values was about 4.5 percent countywide last year, and the budget assumes a similar rate for 2018. (For most existing properties, the growth limit is 3 percent.)
The county budget proposes to add 33 positions for increased service demands. They are primarily in Assessment and Taxation, the Sheriff's Office — to add deputies and reduce overtime for jail staffing — and support services. Some positions were added in the middle of the current budget year to assume functions that a now-defunct coordinated-care organization had provided for mental health and addiction treatment.
Although the operating budget is up 6 percent, most of the growth comes from outside the general fund, which relies largely on property taxes.
Some county agencies rely mainly on federal and state grants (Health and Human Services) or earmarked fees and taxes (Land Use and Transportation) that cannot be spent on other purposes.
Public health, for instance, will receive $2 million more in grants for various programs.
Transportation will receive a double boost. The county will share in higher state fuel taxes and vehicle fees — the first-year estimate is $7.5 million, which will be spent on capital improvements — and a new county vehicle registration fee will yield $8 million for county road and bridge maintenance. (The county fee takes effect July 1. It actually raises more money, but under state law, cities get 40 percent of the proceeds.)
During their June 19 meeting, the commissioners also will consider the budgets of four special-purpose districts, including the Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District, which covers more than 200,000 residents in the county's urban unincorporated communities and is supported by a separate property tax levy that voters renewed last year for five more years. Others are the Urban Road Maintenance District, the North Bethany County Service District for Roads, and Service District for Lighting No. 1.
All of them have their own tax rates, which do not apply countywide. Their budgets add up to $65 million.
It is the final budget cycle for at least two commissioners, who will leave office in January. Andy Duyck is retiring after 24 years, the past eight as board chairman. Greg Malinowski lost his bid for a third four-year term in the May 15 primary.
Commissioner Bob Terry is in a Nov. 6 runoff with Kathryn Harrington, a current Metro councilor, to succeed Duyck as board chair.
Link to Washington County budget message, documents, and May 8 presentation:
Fiscal clouds on the horizon
Washington County's financial condition is described as good.
But in the message accompanying the 2018-19 budget that won preliminary approval Thursday, May 17, County Administrator Bob Davis warned of some clouds on the horizon.
The county general-fund reserve will dip to a projected 20.1 percent in the next budget year — just above the minimum that officials recommend — and stay below that mark until 2022-23.
"Careful fiscal management would bring these projections in compliance with reserve targets," Davis said.
Meanwhile, the proposed budget will not have to tap a $6.8 million reserve set aside to cover future increases in public-pension contributions by county government. Rate increases, scheduled to take effect in mid-2019, will cost the county $9 million based on December 2017 estimates by the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).
The PERS Board will adopt the actual rates, which will be in effect for two years through mid-2021, at its Oct. 5 meeting.
"Our approach at least in the near future is to avoid drawing from the PERS stabilization fund and instead spread this cost proportionately across the general fund and special funds," Davis said.
Still, Washington County is the largest recipient of Gain Share funds, which are state payments intended to help offset county property tax breaks for investments of $100 million or more by companies such as Intel. The county has spent some of that money on one-time capital improvements, such as seismic reinforcement work and the Event Center at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro, but has banked the rest.
"It tells something about the economic climate in Washington County that companies want to be here," Davis said.
— Peter Wong