Wahkiakum County commissioners on Tuesday ordered layoffs in departments, imposed financial service charges and notified Washington State University that it would discontinue the Cooperative Extension program in 2009.
The moves came as county officials continue to wrestle with an unexpected revenue shortfall for their 2008 budgets.
That shortfall could reach $1.4 million for the year, commissioners said, and they feel the personnel cuts and other moves are needed as soon as possible to limit the shortfall carried into 2009.
The personnel cuts would be effective in November. Commissioners asked the department heads at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning to return at 2 p.m. to identify which positions would be reduced so that they could begin reduction in force notices according to provisions of the union employees’ contract.
Under the commission’s Tuesday morning direction, the sheriff’s department would be reduced three full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. Each losing a half FTE would be Cooperative Extension, assessor, auditor, clerk, district court, Housing and Community Development, prosecuting attorney, and treasurer.
The commissioners wanted to include Public Health and Mental Health in the cuts, but the level of reduction was unsettled.
They had proposed imposing a 5 percent financial service charge on four funds, including a $42,000 charge on Public Health. However, Health and Human Services Director Judy Bright commented that the amount roughly equals payroll for 1.5 months, and she didn’t know if that could be paid in the remainder without shutting down the departments.
She and Commissioner Dan Cothren said they would go over the figures to see what could be done.
Treasurer Paula Holloway said the service charges, as proposed, would raise $273,000.
She and the board also identified budgeted funds that held in the Current Expense Fund and not transferred--Public Health $42,000, computers $25,000, $83,000 Emergency Expenditures, and $255,000 in timber sale funds.
Holloway said she had pressed the commissioners this week to come up with some spending cuts.
“When I realized that we would have to borrow another $500,000 to get through this year, I put a sign on the commissioners’ desks asking them to do something,” she said. “Financially, we’re snowballing into too much debt.”
“These are difficult decisions that we don’t enjoy doing,” said Commission er Blair Brady.
More staff and program cuts are likely as county officials start meeting in October to develop 2009 budgets.
With Extension, Brady said, the decision to drop the program was needed to meet contractual obligations to notify WSU Cooperative Extension by October 1 that the program would be discontinued the following January.
Commissioners have already imposed spending controls, restricting overtime and travel expenses. In setting last year’s budgets, they cut out four FTE’s, one in the Emergency Services Department and three others spread around the courthouse.
They had considered cutting Cooperative Extension but kept it in the budget after demonstrations of public support and budget negotiations.