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Citizen panel OKs $1.2 billion spending plan for coming year, forwards it to county commissioners for adoption June 20.

Washington County is one step away from final approval of a $1.2 billion spending plan for the year starting July 1.

The plan presented by County Administrator Robert Davis won approval Thursday (May 18) from the budget committee, which consists of the five county commissioners and five public members.

The commissioners are scheduled to adopt it at their June 20 business meeting and can make adjustments to it.

The overall budget for the year starting July 1 is proposed at $1.2 billion, up $38.6 million (3 percent) from the adjusted current budget. The number of full-time employees will go up 44 for a total of 2,000.

The general fund — the county's most flexible spending, two-thirds of which is supported by property taxes — is proposed for a 6 percent increase at $229 million.

The budget assumes no increases in tax rates — $2.25 per $1,000 of taxable value for the county, 42 cents for law enforcement and 22 cents for library services in levies that run through 2021 — and a 4 percent growth in the taxable value of property countywide. That growth in 2016 was 4.4 percent.

Budget committee members also approved plans for four special service districts governed by the county.

The commissioners did ask Davis to consider whether money is available to fulfill part of a request by the Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation for $786,694 to complete a new 36,000-square-foot wellness clinic it is building on Cedar Hills Boulevard in Beaverton. It is scheduled to open in a year.

The clinic will be able to accommodate 50 percent more patients than the 12,000 currently served annually. Two-thirds live in households below the federal poverty level, and nearly half (42 percent) are under age 18.

'A heavy lift'

"I knew this was going to be a heavy lift, given all the capital needs we have," said Andy Duyck, county board chairman, after the presentation by executive director Serena Cruz.

Cruz said the foundation, which operates numerous clinics in Washington and Yamhill counties, has raised nearly all the money required for construction from foundations, state and federal grants, Care Oregon and Providence Health & Services.

"It would be nice to make a statement," said Commissioner Greg Malinowski, whose district will contain the new clinic.

He and other commissioners said a county contribution might induce others to give toward the remaining $800,000.

One potential source is the county's Gain Share funds, which are state payments that help offset losses in county property taxes from business investments exceeding $100 million, such as those by Intel and Genentech. County commissioners have generally reserved the money for capital projects, such as the current seismic reinforcement of the Public Services Building and Law Enforcement Center in Hillsboro.

The overall budget also hinges on state and federal grants — the Oregon Legislature and Congress have yet to act on those budgets — and on a variety of other sources.

"The proposed budget seeks to continue to strategically target investments in the basic infrastructure supporting our community while continuing to prioritize core county services," Davis said in his budget message.

Highlights this year

The budget provides for these additions:

• Full-year funding for the Hawthorn Walk-In Clinic for mental health services. The clinic, which has been several years in planning, is scheduled to open Tuesday (May 23) in Hillsboro. The county has contracted with LifeWorks NW and others to provide services.

• A second-year investment in the High-Growth Transportation Program, which uses countywide growth in taxable property value to support $23.4 million in bonds to pay for selected projects. This is in addition to property taxes that county voters authorized for road improvements prior to statewide limits on property taxes in the mid-1990s. Commissioners have continued to honor that commitment through the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program.

Commissioners also discussed the need for more money to keep existing roads in good condition. The latest Pavement Condition Index is at 76, short of the goal of 80, and excludes damage caused by last winter's storms. An update is pending.

• More money ($188,439) for a housing development project coordinator and other housing work. The proposed general-fund support for housing work tops $1 million, an increase of nearly $600,000 from three years ago. Almost 40,000 households in the county pay 30 percent or more of their income for rent or mortgage costs.

• Seismic upgrades, which have already started, for the Public Services Building and the Law Enforcement Center in downtown Hillsboro.

The county is also renovating an existing building in southwest Hillsboro for use by the sheriff and other police agencies for public safety training.

The county also will start planning for an events center building at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro. Construction is expected to start in 2018.

Issues ahead

Davis said there are some clouds on the fiscal horizon.

Increased county contributions to public employee pensions are projected at $6 million annually, divided equally between the tax-supported general fund and other sources. The county has set aside $6.6 million in a special reserve for pensions, although it will not have to tap that money in the proposed budget.

Also, the county has restrained increases in employee health insurance costs — 3 percent for this calendar year, compared with double-digit increases in some recent years — and is negotiating new contracts with the Oregon Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

General-fund reserves peaked at 28.3 percent in 2016-17, and the proposed budget would move $5 million to boost the contingency fund. But reserves are projected to decline steadily to around 16 percent by 2020; county policy sets a range of 15 to 20 percent.

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For a link to the proposed 2017-18 Washington County budget, click below:

www.co.washington.or.us/Support_Services/Finance/CountyBudget/2017-18-county-budget-reports.cfm

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