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County crafts new budget with 'guarded optimism'

The 2014-15 Washington County all-funds budget proposed May 13 would rise 8 percent if approved.

Don Bohn, assistant county administrator, characterized the budget as being crafted with “guarded optimism.”

“It’s the first year of us coming out of the recession,” he said. “After disinvesting over six or seven years, we’re in a happy place.”

The somewhat improved economy and steps toward reinvestment are reflected in the proposed budget numbers. It’s also the first year since 1998 without general obligation (GO) bond debt payments for a new jail, Law Enforcement Center and parking structure.

Fiscal year 2013-2014 had a final budget of $747.8 million, with full-time equivalent employment at 1,778. The proposed budget would increase to $811.3 million, with FTEs at 1,817. That’s an increase of $63.4 million (8 percent), with FTEs rising 2 percent.

“We’re still 25 FTEs short of where we were in 2008,” added Bohn.

General fund reserves have dropped since the 2010-11 budget, from 26.5 percent to 21.8 percent in the 2013-14 proposal. Board policy requires a general fund reserve of 20 percent of net revenues. The new budget proposed adding a bit to reserves, retaining 22.4 percent.

Tax revenues in the last round were $115.7 million. As proposed, tax revenues will rise this time to $121.9 million, an increase of 5 percent. Taxes contribute 62 percent of general fund revenues. The uptick reflects the rebound in development and construction activity in the county.

Housing, Health & Human Services as a portion of the budget would rise 10 percent, from $109.4 million to $120.6 million.

Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten was pleased to see the positive numbers.

“We’ve really been struggling,” he said after the meeting. “I’d like to see some of that put toward the issue of homelessness.”

Karen Bolin of the Aloha Business Association agreed.

“My initial thought was, ‘How would you rather spend $1 million?’” Bolin said. “I think it should go toward housing, which fixes a lot of problems.”

Bolin was impressed by data presented by Annette Evans, homeless program coordinator for Washington County Housing Services.

In the sixth year of a 10-year plan to end homelessness, Evans showed that for every $1 spent in general fund dollars, the county receives $7 in federal funds.

“One dollar plus $7?” said Bolin. “That just makes a lot of sense to me.”

A public hearing before the budget committee takes place at 8:30 a.m. May 22 in the Shirley Huffman Auditorium in the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, 155 N. First Ave., Hillsboro.

Members of the public wishing to testify about the proposed budget may do so starting at 10:30 a.m.



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