Washington County budget proposed at $1.2 billion
Washington County's new budget proposes modest increases in discretionary spending for low-income housing, mental health and addiction treatment, and other services.
Public comments will be heard Thursday, May 17, on the all-funds budget of $1.2 billion by the budget committee, which consists of the five elected commissioners and five appointed public members.
Comments also will be heard on proposed budgets for four special-purpose districts, including the Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District, which covers more than 200,000 residents in the county's urban unincorporated communities and is supported by a separate property tax levy that voters renewed last year for five more years. Those budgets add up to about $65 million.
Assuming approval by the budget committees, all the spending plans will go to county commissioners for adoption June 19, ahead of the July 1 start of the new budget year.
Commissioner Bob Terry, filling in as board chairman in Andy Duyck's absence, said the budget makes some progress toward new priorities.
"The dollar amount did not grow as much as I anticipated it would," Terry said after the presentation on May 8. "But I think we have honed in on some key areas… and I am glad to see our staff come forward.
About a quarter of the overall budget is the general fund, consisting largely of property taxes, over which the commissioners have the most discretion in spending.
The budget assumes no change in the county's permanent tax rate of $2.25 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The county also has two local-option levies — for law enforcement and library services, at 42 cents and 22 cents — that are up for renewal in 2021.
Growth in taxable property values was about 4.5 percent countywide last year, and the budget assumes a similar rate for 2018. (For most existing properties, the growth limit is 3 percent.)
"If voters do not trust us, they do not support us when we asked for levies and bonds," Assistant County Administrator Don Bohm said.
The budget does spend money from a $77 million general-obligation bond that voters authorized in 2016 for a regional agency to upgrade the emergency radio communications network.
General fund is up
General-fund spending is projected at $280.8 million, barely 1 percent more than the current adjusted budget.
"You will see Washington County is in pretty strong financial condition across the board," County Administrator Bob Davis said in unveiling the spending plan.
Some county agencies rely mainly on federal and state grants (Health and Human Services) or earmarked fees and taxes (Land Use and Transportation) that cannot be spent on other purposes.
Public health, for instance, will receive $2 million more in grants for various programs.
Transportation will receive a double boost.
The 2017 Legislature's approval of higher fuel taxes and vehicle fees will yield $7.5 million more, which the budget proposes for capital improvements on roads and bridges, plus bicycle and pedestrian projects. A new county vehicle registration fee, at $30 annually — payable every two years, starting July 1 — will raise $8 million more that the county will spend on road and bridge maintenance. (The fee raises more, but under state law, cities share 40 percent of the proceeds.)
The county budget proposes to add 33 positions — the current level is about 2,050 — for increased service demands. They are primarily in Assessment and Taxation, the Sheriff's Office — to add deputies and reduce overtime for jail staffing — and support services. Some positions were added in the middle of the current budget year to assume functions that a now-defunct coordinated-care organization had provided for mental health and addiction treatment.
The proposed all-funds budget of $1.2 billion is down slightly (about 3 percent) from the current budget. That's because seismic reinforcement has been completed on the Law Enforcement Center in Hillsboro, which houses the Sheriff's Office and the emergency operations center.
Reinforcement is continuing on the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, which is the county's administrative center in Hillsboro. Work on the north side is scheduled for completion in several months, but work on the south side — which houses Health and Human Services, and Land Use and Transportation — will proceed through 2019. Work on the Walnut Street Center is scheduled to start this year.
The county also is planning on a public safety training center, which will be housed in Hillsboro in an existing building acquired in 2015, and an Event Center at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro.
The budget does combine federal, state and nonprofit funding for an estimated 280 housing units deemed "affordable," no more than 30 percent of median household income.
In a session preceding the budget presentation, county commissioners heard plans to build 384 more units starting this summer.
A 120-unit project, Willow Creek Crossing, is proposed at the northwest corner of Baseline Road and 185th Avenue on land donated by the county. That project is scheduled for completion next year.
A 264-unit project, The Fields apartments, is proposed on Southwest Hunsaker Road outside the Tigard Triangle. That project is scheduled for completion in 2020.
The county board declined to proceed in 2017 with a proposed local-option levy that would have raised property taxes to support housing, workforce training and early childhood programs. Preliminary polling indicated it would have started with only 52 percent support.
The Metro Council, however, is considering referral of a $516.5 million regional bond for housing projects to voters in the Nov. 6 general election. Washington County would get a share of that, but details have yet to be worked out.
In his budget message, Administrator Davis did discuss a couple of potential fiscal clouds.
The county general-fund reserve will dip to a projected 20.1 percent in the next budget year — just above the minimum that officials recommend — and drop below that mark until 2022-23.
"Careful fiscal management would bring these projections in compliance with reserve targets," Davis said.
Meanwhile, the proposed budget will not have to tap a $6.8 million reserve set aside to cover future increases in public-pension contributions by county government. Rate increases, scheduled to take effect in mid-2019, will cost the county $9 million based on December 2017 estimates by the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).
"Our approach at least in the near future is to avoid drawing from the PERS stabilization fund and instead spread this cost proportionately across the general fund and special funds," Davis said.
Still, Washington County is the largest recipient of Gain Share funds, which are state payments intended to help offset county property tax breaks for investments of $100 million or more by companies such as Intel. The county has spent some of that money on one-time capital improvements, such as seismic reinforcement work and the Event Center, but has banked the rest.
"It tells something about the economic climate in Washington County that companies want to be here," Davis said.
Link to Washington County budget message, documents, and May 8 presentation:
What's next: The Washington County Budget Committee and budget panels for four special-purpose districts will meet again starting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, May 17, in the training room of the Law Enforcement Center, 215 S.W. Adams Ave., Hillsboro.
After presentations of the budgets for the four special-purpose districts, public comments will be heard starting at 10:30 a.m.
Assuming approval on May 17, all the spending plans will go to county commissioners for adoption scheduled on June 19.
(Note: Fixes erroneous reference to general-obligation debt. Washington County voters approved a $77 million bond issue in 2016 for a regional agency to upgrade the emergency radio communications system. A property tax is levied annually to repay that bond.)