The Stevens County Commissioners are set to pass their budget for the coming year and there is some optimism that things are improving, if only slightly. The county is working to balance a projected $14.6 million in expenses with a likely revenue of $14.1 million in 2013. At present, the proposal is to fill the $494,300 gap with money from the county reserve fund.
Stevens County Auditor Tim Gray said that there was a slight improvement in county revenues in 2012, but it has not made balancing the 2013 budget any easier.
“We saw some slight improvement in revenues related to our local economy, property, sales and timber taxes. We are also staying within the budget on the expense side and have not had any unexpected financial events,” said Gray. “I thought this would make balancing the 2013 budget a little easier, but that is not currently the case. While revenue is better in some areas, it is not better in all areas. “
Some of the big revenue generators like property tax, sales tax and timber tax have improved from 2011, said Gray. In combination with federal and state assistance, these revenue items account for $10.2 million of the $14 million in expected revenue for 2013, making up 72 percent of the total revenue for the year. Timber tax for 2012 was $250,960 and is budgeted for $250,000 in 2013. Sales tax through November tallied at $1.9 million with $2 million anticipated for 2013.
Gray noted that building permits and investment income is down and “not really improving.” Bargaining contracts with county employee union groups are also uncertain at this time, making it difficult to know what total expenditures will be.
“No one wants to talk about layoffs because it is difficult to imagine where they would be made,” said Gray.
One of the expense items that may see some considerable changes is the county’s commitment to the Martin Hall Juvenile Detention facility. Martin Hall, located in Medical Lake, was built as a multi-county project to address juvenile detention needs 15 years ago.
At the time, nine counties including Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille, and Spokane did not have sufficient facilities for juveniles. By committing to help build the facility and rent beds in the jail, each county would help to keep Martin Hall open.
However, Spokane County recently announced they will pull the $319,000 they had committed to the facility annually due to a decreased need and in an attempt to save money.
“The good news is that juvenile detention needs in Stevens County are down as well and we are not always using the seven beds at Martin Hall that we are paying for,” said Gray. “So if Martin Hall ends up closing due to other counties pulling out, we could look at utilizing facilities in another county to help address that need.”
The drawback to not having regularly reserved space for juveniles is that there is no consistent arrangement.
“If you become dependent on the room another county has, you lose control of the treatment plan and may end up needing space they do not have available,” said Gray. “So if our need stays low, we could save money but if it spikes we are in trouble.”
Gray said the Commissioners are still considering whether to continue the arrangement with Martin Hall or to pursue other options.
By law, the Stevens County Commissioners must pass a 2013 budget before Dec. 31. The county usually meets this deadline, although there are quarterly reviews within the year to adjust the budget as needed if projected revenues or expenditures change.
For more information, contact the Stevens County Commissioners at 684-3751 or visit www.co.stevens.wa.us/.
By Jamie Henneman Special to The Independent