San Juan County unveils two preliminary 2010 budgets, no 'margin for error' in either

Tough times lay ahead for San Juan County with or without a voter-approved property-tax hike.

With the outcome of the Nov. 3 election just around the corner, and the fate of Proposition 1 hanging in the balance, the County Council last week hedged its bets by having not one, but two preliminary budgets prepared for the upcoming year.

The two preliminary budgets are available online, in detail and can be download from the county website, at One is based on the assumption that Prop. 1 is approved, the other assumes that it fails.

If approved by voters, Proposition 1 would provide the county general fund with roughly $960,000 more in annual revenue in each of the next six years by adding 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value onto local property-tax bills. The owner of a $500,000 home would pay an additional $60 a year.

What Prop. 1 won't do, according to Administrator Pete Rose, is provide any cushion or flexibility in operating expenses should revenue projections for 2010 fall short. The county will be living on the edge financially in 2010 and the coming year promises to be "perilous" with or without voter-approval on Proposition 1, he said.

“There is no money to overcome the normal situations that crop up during a budget year," Rose said in a press release issued by the county Oct. 16. "There is no flex in the general fund personnel-funding to adapt to difficulty. There is no extra reserve for short revenue projections. There is no fund to tap to recover from the next leaking pipe in the basement. The impact of anything unanticipated will be magnified."

In its decision to seek a property-tax hike, the council earmarked would-be revenue from Prop. 1 to be used exclusively on 11 different programs and jobs which have already been -- or are slated to be -- eliminated or significantly reduced in coming year.

Programs in financial jeopardy include senior services, parks, the Fair, oil spill prevention, and an assortment of activities managed by WSU Extension, including 4-H, Master Gardeners and several agricultural programs. Spending on such programs, despite popularity, is considered "discretionary", as opposed to services required by the state, such as property assessments, licensing, public health and safety, and criminal prosecutions and courts.

Revenue generated by Prop. 1 would also restore a part-time deputy prosecutor and a part-time probation officer to full-time, and provide $50,000 to help pay the salary of the manager of the Department of Emergency Management.

Each preliminary budget anticipates that the county general fund, which pays for the bulk of the day-to-day expenses, including payroll, will have less revenue and provide fewer services than it did in 2008.

After wrestling with options over the past two months, the council agreed on Oct. 7 to begin public hearings and deliberations on the 2010 budget on Nov. 10, at which time the fate of Prop. 1 will be known.

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