Washington County Commissioners were cautiously optimistic on Tuesday when they were briefed on next year’s proposed budget.

Chairman Andy Duyck said that after years of declining revenues, it appears the economy may finally be recovering and beginning to bolster the county’s financial resources.

“Things finally appear to be getting better,” Duyck said.

That does not mean the commissioners are ready to go one a spending spree, however. The general fund portion — the part the commissioners have the most control over — would increase from $29 million to $34 million. But $5 million of that increase would come from decreasing reserves by $5 million, reducing the beginning fund balance from $32 million to $27 million.

Despite that, county staff assured the commissioners that home sales are increasing, property values are rising and employment is growing — all signs that sustained budget growth could be on the horizon.

The commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 23, in the Shirley Huffman Auditorium of the Charles D. Cameron Public Service Building. Public testimony is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

Although Duyck did not predict any significant opposition to the proposed budget, several issues remain to be decided. They include how the commission will spend the state Gain Share funds it is finally beginning to receive. The income tax payments are intend to partly reimburse the county for waiving a portion of future property taxes large employers would pay to create new jobs.

The county expects to receive approximately $14.5 million from the state in the current and next fiscal year. Approximately $1.7 million is already dedicated to completing a computer upgrade. The commissioners have not yet decided how to spend the remaining funds, and did not offer any suggestions during the briefing.

Although the proposed budget does not include any significant new programs, the county is poised to begin investing a large amount of money in infrastructure projects that will hasten development in the North Bethany residential area. On the other hand, the commissioners were told that the county’s share of state gas tax revenues are not keeping pace with inflation, and additional sources of revenue need to be considered.

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