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Washington County facing $780,000 budget deficit

Robert Houk • May 16, 2018 at 11:48 PM

The Washington County Budget Committee was presented an overview Wednesday of a proposed $39.4 million budget that is currently $780,000 out of balance.

“What you see is our first draft,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge told committee members.

He said the early proposal includes no across-the-board raises for county employees, and the $17 million budget for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Detention Center is based on spending numbers for the current fiscal year.

“Our budget will be pretty modest,” Eldridge said. “We hope to work in a 2 percent salary increase for county employees. It also looks like we have our health insurance costs under control.”

He said most of the budgetary challenges this year rest on the shoulders of members of the county’s Board of Education. Eldridge said the budget for county schools is nearly $3.7 million out of balance.

“There is no new money,” he said. “I’m not sure that registers with them (board members).”

Brad Hale, the county school system’s finance director, said he will soon present School Board members with plan to erase the deficit by eliminating funding for their “wish list” of spending projects and removing all employee pay raises from the budget except for step increases mandated by the state.

Budget officials said Washington County has collected 96 percent of the property taxes on the books. Eldridge told commissioners property taxes fund roughly half of the general fund. Grants and fees for services cover the remaining amount.

Mitch Meredith, the county’s director of finance and administration, said the proposed general fund budget does include some savings in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. One comes from downsizing the County Commission from 25 to 15 members. The move will result in a $38,880 reduction in the new budget for commission salaries and benefits.

The county attorney’s budget has projected a $25,000 decrease in litigation fees in the new fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the county assessor of property’s office has asked for a $15,000 increase to fuel costs and another $45,000 for two additional vehicles in the new fiscal year. The additional funds will help the office carry out a state-mandated countywide property reappraisal in 2019.

Meredith said the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee has proposed the county fund no new requests from non-emergency outside agencies. As a result, the first draft of the county’s new budget includes $4,365,207 in special appropriations.

Of that amount, a total of $899,050 will go to volunteer fire departments serving Washington County.

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