Reductions Still Needed to Balance Lewis County Budget


Preliminary budget numbers presented to the Board of Lewis County Commissioners on Tuesday show that the county has an estimated $1.2 million difference between the revenue it is expected to receive for the 2018 year and its expenditures.

As the board moves forward with plans to adopt a structurally balanced budget for next year, the commissioners will have to find ways to reduce that number to ease away from past reliance of reserves.

The commissioners will be presented a preliminary budget on Sept. 5. 

“We’ll have to discuss how to proceed to condense that number,” Becky Butler, the county’s budget analyst, said.

Commissioners Edna Fund, Gary Stamper and Bobby Jackson have discussed doing a levy shift from the road district to funnel more money into the county’s general fund. 

For the 2017 year, the commissioners adopted a budget that utilized $1.9 million in reserves, but preliminary numbers show that amount will likely decrease to around $633,000 by year’s end, Butler said.

“That number can change dramatically as we know because we don’t really have a good idea of what will happen in the next few months,” Butler said.

The commissioners have asked departments to keep their 2017 adopted budget level for next year. 

As of now, there is about $900,000 in requests that go above and beyond the limitation, Butler said, $250,000 of which is slated for the potential hiring of a county manager.

A commissioner-appointed task force recommended earlier this year that the county hire a manager to oversee day-to-day operations at a salary range of $100,000 to $125,000. The true cost would be more than that once benefits, office space and equipment is factored in, according to the county. 

No decisions have been made on the new position, but it has been placed on the list of requests, along with other expenditures the commissioners will have to decide on before adopting the 2018 budget. 

Meanwhile, the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce is pursuing a home rule charter through a signature-gathering process that, if successful, would allow voters to elect freeholders to meet and propose changes in government. One Lewis County, a Chamber initiative, is calling for a permanent county manager and five part-time county commissioners who would be paid significantly less. 

Butler said she has continued to budget conservatively on revenue, but did indicate there were a few positive trends, such as an increase in the amount of sales tax being collected.

Even with some good news, there are still a lot of unknowns, Butler said. Union negotiations are currently underway and the county has not yet received information on medical costs.

“We’ll get more information as we go through this process that will affect and change these figures,” Butler said, referring to the budget as a moving document. 

Once the preliminary budget is presented to the commissioners on Sept. 5, the board will then meet with departments during three days in September. 

The all-day budget meetings are scheduled for Sept. 12, 27 and 28. They are open to the public.