The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Commissioners look over department heads' budget requests


November 2, 2017

The 2018 financial picture for Wahkiakum County government isn't all that bleak.

County officials are wrapping up preparation of a set of preliminary budgets for next year, and they're anticipating a financial position that will allow them to consider granting some of the requests for wage adjustments and other additions requested by department heads.

That's not what county commissioners anticipated earlier this year.

"I thought we would be looking at layoffs," commission Chair Blair Brady commented Tuesday when commissioners, auditor and treasurer gathered to review budget requests from department heads.

Unanticipated revenue from the harvest of timber on state managed trust land improved the 2017 financial picture of the Current Expense Fund, which finances most courthouse offices and which depends on the timber revenues. Some departments, such as the Road Department and Health & Human Services have sufficient revenue and grant funds to pay for their programs.

Commissioners believe the county will do well with timber revenue in 2018.

They've budgeted $1.1 million from timber harvest, and that could go higher if the timber market stays hot, said Commissioner Dan Cothren.

They also anticipate they'll eventually receive the $1 million tucked into the state's Capital Budget to compensate the county for the loss of revenue from trust timber encumbered for endangered species habitat. The legislature has yet to pass that budget, and commissioners believe the bill will be passed and signed early next year. And it's likely the legislature will include another $1 million in similar legislation that will come up in the 2018 legislative session.

Commissioners also anticipate diverting $425,000 from County Road Fund levy and $785,000 in Criminal Just Reserve funds to shore up the Current Expense Fund.

In going over requests from department heads, commissioners approved some requests, denied others and modified still others.

All are subject to further refinement as the budgets go through the public hearing process.

The board agreed with a variety of requests ranging from creation of a new mechanic/operator position for the Road Department to making the assessor's part-time clerk position full-time effective yesterday (Wednesday).

Several department heads asked that the board move positions two steps up the salary schedule to recognize the new responsibilities that didn't exist when the salary schedule was created.

Commissioners agreed that the positions could be increased by one, not two, steps.

The board wrestled with requests from Sheriff Mark Howie and finally recessed their meeting to next Monday, 3 p.m., to discuss them with him in person.

Howie asked the board to create a new position of sergeant in the civil department to assist the chief civil deputy. The position would have a $5,200 salary increase for a communications/corrections officer.

"So, we've brought them back up to full staff," Brady said. "That winds up being another job."

"I have a problem with the amount of money there," Cothren said.

"That's a huge increase," said Commissioner Mike Backman.

Auditor Diane Tischer pointed out that the position would be a union position and subject to the collective bargaining agreement.

"So they'll have to go to the union, and so it's a no," Brady said.

Commissioners also wrestled with a request to increase the department's wages and salaries by 5 percent. Officers have pointed out that the county has one of the lowest levels of compensation for law enforcement personnel in the state, and that makes it difficult to retain personnel who can find higher paying jobs elsewhere.

"We're the second smallest county in the state," Brady said, "so it's not surprising that our wages are low. But our health benefits are higher than 50 percent of other counties in the state."

Commissioners also commented that they just recently increased employee's salaries 3 percent; the action came after the sheriff submitted his request.


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