Washington County anticipates budget cuts

By Pam Treece, Washington County Commissioner, District 2

As our Board of County Commissioners (BCC) enters another busy budget season at Washington County, it is no secret that our County is facing tough financial challenges for fiscal year 2023-24. Community members may be hearing about a projected $25.3 million gap in revenue and expenditures in our General Fund. Many may be wondering how the County got to this point and what we are planning to do to address the issues in the short and long term. 

This gap in funding we experience today can be traced to a structural problem, baked into our current financial framework. The limited revenues we receive into the General Fund are no longer keeping pace with our growing expenses to meet current levels of service delivery. There are multi-faceted reasons for this discrepancy. Among those we count: over reliance on “one-time” funding (for instance funds from strategic investment program agreements), health insurance and state retirement system costs outpacing inflation, unfunded state-mandated programs, and key technical systems and facilities that are at the end or nearing the end of their useful lives—for example, our 24‐hour congregate care buildings like the Jail, Community Corrections Center, and Harkins House Juvenile Shelter. Additionally, we have depended on our growth rate to mitigate our 3% limitation on property tax increases.

While it’s important to look back and understand how we arrived here, I want to look forward and focus on what we are doing to prevent this situation from occurring again. In the immediate future we are asking programs that receive General Fund dollars to present scenarios that involve cuts of 10%, 7% and 4%. Further, we are actively managing new and vacant employee positions and approaching the budget with a surgical lens to find ways to make reductions in the budget across the board and in concert with best practices and strategies recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). At the end of the day, we will be facing cuts to our service levels.

In the long term, we need to look at underlying issues that prevent our revenue and expenditures from aligning. Our Board is committed to examining everything—from our Major Streets Improvement Program (MSTIP) and library funding practices to how we properly plan for capital investments. As our Board embarks on this process, in addition to looking at short- and long-term solutions, other priorities at the top of our list include funding the immediate needs for 24/7 public safety facilities, working with the community to revise the County’s 30-year-old strategic plan, and operationalizing our Design the Future and One Washington County initiatives.

The most important thing, I believe, is ensuring transparency to our public. I value the clear and upfront frankness our Board is taking to address the situation and to hold nothing back from our community.

Woodstove Exchange

For the community, I want to end this article by outlining all the opportunities that will be provided to give input to the Board on the budget. We already held our two budget town halls. Here are future opportunities for the community to weigh in.

  • May 8, 6:30 pm: County Budget Committee meeting
  • May 11, 5:30 pm: County Budget Committee meeting with public comment
  • May 15, 6:30 pm: Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District (ESPD) and Urban Road Maintenance District (URMD) Budget Committees meet
  • May 18, 6:30 pm: County Budget Committee meeting with public comment
  • May 31, 6:30 pm: ESPD and URMD Budget Committees hold public hearings before considering approving budgets
  • June 1: County Budget Committee holds public hearing before considering approving budget
  • June 20: Board of County Commissioners holds public hearing before considering adopting County budget

These meetings will be listed on the Main County Calendar with links for ways to participate.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you directly on our budget situation. My door is always open, and I want to assure all of you, that we will find a way forward together, as One Washington County.