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All-cuts budget seems off the table at the county

MONTESANO — An all-cuts budget seems to be off the table as the Grays Harbor County commissioners mull how to balance their budget.

At this point, the commissioners are debating whether to dip more into reserves or to raise property taxes through an unpopular road levy shift, which has widely been condemned by city councils and mayors all over the Harbor.

The county commissioners conducted a budget workshop Friday morning to go over the details.

The county is budgeted to bring in about $24.7 million in revenue next year with expenses at nearly $26.2 million.

There’s a difference of $1.463 million that needs to be found. There’s wide acceptance among all three commissioners to use at least $500,000 out of the county’s reserves, leaving about a $1 million hole.

Budget Director Brenda Sherman had budgeted for the county to have $5.5 million by the end of the year. On Monday, she revised those figures and says the county is likely to have $6 million.

She presented options to the commissioners using a full $1 million in reserves and at least $500,000 in new revenue from the road levy shift. County Commissioner Frank Gordon says he likes the idea of supplementing the reserve spending by increasing taxes with a $500,000 road levy shift. He notes that’s a lower amount than previous commissioners had taken in years past.

“That should stop the mayors from squawking,” Gordon said.

But County Commissioner Wes Cormier crunched his own numbers with the assistance of County Treasurer Ron Strabbing that shows the county may have as much as $6.5 million at the end of the year.

He’s suggesting spending $1.5 million in reserves to balance the budget — and no cuts.

“I think we’ll have enough ending cash to increase the projection,” Cormier said. “Budgets are all about projections, trending … and we’ll have more than $7 million by the end of November already.”

Cormier said that potential cuts could come next year throughout the year. He said he planned to send a letter to department heads asking them to be as frugal as possible as the end of the year progresses.

“I don’t want to count the money before we have it,” Gordon said.

The question before the county commissioners now is do they spend entirely out of reserves using Cormier’s projections or do they use Sherman’s projections and need to figure out a way to raise more revenue?

County Commissioner Herb Welch said he wasn’t up to deciding and had some questions on everything first.

Whatever the case, the county still needs to figure out its contracts. Human Resources Director Marilyn Lewis noted that if everyone in the county got a 2 percent raise next year, that would mean an additional $350,000 that would need to be spent that isn’t in the budget.

The commissioners planned to next meet on their budget on Wednesday, Nov. 27, after The Vidette’s early Thanksgiving deadline.

On Monday, Montesano Mayor Ken Estes urged the county commissioners not to move forward with the road levy shift, noting that his residents already pay their fair share of county property taxes.

Estes noted that the funds were only supposed to be taken for a couple of years. Well, he pointed out, it’s three years later and the funds are still being considered.

Other public comments on Monday were a bit mixed.

Commissioner Gordon noted that the cost on taxpayers would likely only be $8 or less a year.

“That’s less than what people pay for espressos in a month,” Gordon said.

Ocean Shores City Council member Jackie Farra noted in public comment that $8 a year didn’t sound so bad to her.

Robin Moore of Hoquiam also told the commissioners she “wouldn’t mind kicking in another $8 per year.”

Another Hoquiam woman protested the road levy shift, however, telling the county, “You’re not the only one dipping into my money. ... Leave my money alone.”