The County Council on Dec. 3, meeting on Lopez Island, approved a 2014 budget, capital improvement plan and a staffing, pay and benefits plan.
The bottom line: $54,469,654 for the "Grand Total County" budget; $6,124,203 for the capital improvements plan, included in the budget; 219.7 full-time equivalents, which roughly means roughly 220 employees.
The $54.5 million 2014 budget is 2.6 percent less than the 2013 budget of about $55.6 million. The 2014 staffing level of 219.7 FTEs represents a reduction of about 6 FTEs. Because employees are hired, fired and retire during the year, the actual number of people working for the county may not be reduced.
The largest budget reduction was about $1.5 million for county roads, from about $11.8 million in 2013 to roughly $10.3 million budgeted for 2014. "Roads" is a budgetary line item that varies from year-to-year based on the availability of federal and state contributions to local road construction.
From 2012 to 2013, for instance, county road funds went up by about $3 million because of outside grants.
Expenditures for county parks will increase by almost $400,000, mostly because of a capital expenditure of about $380,000 for a new Parks & Fair Administration Building.
The solid waste projects line item is up by about $550,000, from about $720,000 in 2013 to about $1.275 million in 2014.
Major planned capital expenditures included in the 2014 capital improvement plan are $250,000 for a patrol boat based on Lopez and $600,000 for the public safety boat acquisition, most of which will be financed by a federal grant.
The county is also planning on spending $874,000 for realignment of Cattle Point Road, $550,000 for the Deer Harbor Bridge project, $430,000 for Orcas Island road improvements and $380,000 on the West Beach Road Culvert Replacement, also on Orcas.
The budget process includes a review of county income from the multiple tax and grant sources, and a compilation of county department budget requests and income estimates. After clarifications by and discussions with department managers and county Manager Mike Thomas, auditor Milene Henley prepares a line-by-line proposed budget and presents it to the County Council for review, questions and suggestions for amendment.
The assessor's budget is $916,963, but $75,000 of that is being withheld until he provides the council with a written report on the current use farm and agriculture program including: the criteria used to determine compliance, the way he notifies property owners of receipt of materials and analysis of the current use program from January 2007 to December 2013. He must also provide a written report on the status of new construction valuation.
At regular council meetings, the council studies the documentation supplied by Henley and receives additional input from the county manager. After council suggestions for changes are applied, Henley presents a draft budget for further hearings, including at least one hearing at which the public is invited to testify and present their views.
The auditor then prepares a final draft, the manager prepares a draft ordinance, council members review the drafts (but can't discuss them among themselves because of public meeting act rules) and the council schedules a final hearing, which occurred Dec. 3 on Lopez Island.
The vote to approve the budget by the three councilmen was unanimous.