Whitman County’s lack of revenue force commissioners to make cuts

Whitman County’s lack of revenue force commissioners to make cuts »Play Video
Commissioners discuss budget cuts for 2014.
COLFAX, WA - Whitman County Commissioners passed a $58 million budget for 2014 at the courthouse Monday morning.

Reporter Rachel Dubrovin explains why balancing that budget was more difficult this year, and why they're already concerned about the cuts they'll have to make for fiscal year 2015.

"This has not been a fun process, but I do think it is the beginning point of something sustainable and predictable over time," said Whitman County Commissioner Chairman Michael Largent.

Whitman County Commissioners met Monday morning to adopt the 2014 budget that totals to more than $58 million. Chairman Michael Largent explained the county's lack of revenue forced the commissioners to make some cuts.

"The programs and services that counties are constitutionally and statutorily obligated to provide by the state is unsustainable," said Largent. " And the state controls both the purse strings and the cost drivers."

Largent said Washington's Initiative 747 continues to negatively impact the county's property tax revenue.

"I can't emphasize enough that we watch the state budget increase seven-percent, and they limited us to one-percent, which is below the cost of inflation," said Largent.

"There is a serious revenue issue, and unfortunately right now it's impacting our office and our operations significantly," said Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers.

Myers said the 2014 budget forced him to make serious cuts, including the layoff of one deputy sheriff.

"When you're trying to make sure that you cover the road and you actually have people that can still respond to calls and people that can investigate crimes that have already occurred, one extra body can make a huge difference," said Myers.

The commissioners acknowledged the budgets cuts weren't ideal, but they reminded department heads they may see even more in the near future.

"Unless something changes, there's going to be more cuts coming down in 2015-16," said County Commissioner Art Swannack. "And I really haven't seen anything out of state or federal government saying they're willing to chuck a whole bunch more money into county."

Voters will be asked to decide on a county-wide levy lift in February, and Sheriff Myers said department heads are relying on it's approval to avoid more cuts in 2015.

"I don't think that the county in general would be asking for it if we weren't at a serious crossroads with our revenue versus our expenditures," said Myers.

Election day for the levy lift is February 11th. Every registered voter in the county will see it on their ballot. It proposed to raise property taxes by 22-cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.