The Lewis County Board of Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved the county’s 2020 budget, balanced using $2.6 million in reserves.
General fund revenue is budgeted at $38,497,938.00, while expenditures total $41,141,955.00, county manager Erik Martin reported Monday.
“The budget from the general fund is balanced using $2,644,017.00 in fund balance, which is actually a decrease of 27 percent from the use of fund balancing in the 2019 adopted budget of almost $3.6 million,” Martin said. “In the 2020 budget, there is a $1.6 million, or 4.2-percent increase in fund expenditures over the 2019 adopted budget. It’s worth noting that $1.4 million of that cost is related to costs for public safety.”
Overall, it was noted, the 2020 budget represents spending increases of 7.5 percent over the 2019 budget.
Of the county’s $38.4 million in expected general fund revenue, $22.9 million will come from taxes.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and Jail have the largest line items on the expense side of the general fund, spending $8,875,759 and $8,728,479 in 2020, respectively. Law enforcement and courts make up the majority of costs in the general fund, which includes the basic office budgets for many of the county’s departments.
The general fund balance at the beginning of 2020 is projected to be $9.4 million.
Total non-general fund expenditures for 2020 total more than $86 million, $30 million of which is projected for road work.
The county’s full 2020 budget is available at packetwriter.lewiscountywa.gov/proposal/139/.
Members of the Board of County Commissioners staff addressed numerous factors that went into composing Lewis County’s 2020 budget, including general fund numbers, expenditures and several considerations that went into determining those figures, such as labor costs.
During Monday’s regular meeting, Martin and Budget Manager Becky Butler offered the audience a glimpse of what goes into ensuring that all county employee costs — which increased by 3.2 percent since 2019 — are satisfied by the County Commissioners.
“The board has historically been very conservative with labor costs, but finding the right amount of fair compensation for our employees that attracts and retains great talent, but also controls costs is very challenging,” said Martin. “Lewis County has seen positive momentum in many areas, including home sales, new constructions, sales and use tax … and new business creation.”
But despite those positive changes, he cautioned, Lewis County also has to fulfill requirements levied by the state and federal government that compel the county to foot the bill — including inmate medical care, state retirement programs and indigent defense costs, among other requirements.
Martin mentioned how many of the unfunded mandates were recently discussed during the Nov. 1 roundtable with state legislators and noted how the options for “increasing revenue” on the part of county government are limited.
He referenced the county’s ability to increase its property tax rate by 1 percent annually without a public vote, but said it does not cover costs associated with the functions of county government.
“For these reasons, the structural budget deficit remains. County leaders will continue to look for strategies to balance the budget and increase efficiencies as costs continue to increase,” stated Martin. “We’ll also continue to watch market factors that make shifts in the economy and we will continue to make adjustments if needed during the coming year.”
Martin and the Board of County Commissioners also acknowledged the efforts of the Citizens Budget Committee for their participation in budget talks that saw the group partake in three day-long sessions this past October.
“These volunteers devote many hours of their time in providing the commissioners with valuable input,” said Martin.
Commissioner Bobby Jackson also weighed in on the role of the Citizens Budget Committee and credited them for helping the board see beyond their “silo” by bringing up issues that they may not otherwise have not been made privy to.
“This is your government; this is your county; this is your budget … you should always have questions about how your money is spent,” concluded Jackson.