Clark County could face $3.9M shortfall

Budget director says plan must be made now to confront ‘red flags’

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: July 27, 2011, 6:30 PM

 

Clark County Budget Director Jim Dickman warned county commissioners Wednesday morning that revenues are not on target and, if the 2011-12 general fund isn’t revisited, the county’s on track to be short $3.9 million by the end of next year.

Dickman said that housing and construction markets have continued to deteriorate, reducing revenue to the county.

“The county is short on real estate excise taxes and we are barely meeting projections on sales tax,” he said. “We can keep the budget in balance if we start planning to confront the red flags right now.”

The red flags include excise taxes charged on property sales, which are on track to be $1.2 million short by the end of 2012; and revenue from lodging taxes, the Sleep Country Amphitheater and the Clark County Event Center, which adds up to be an estimated $1.2 million short.

In December, commissioners adopted a two-year total budget of $887.5 million.

Of that total budget, the general fund, projected at $280 million for the next two years, has been cut by $62 million since the 2007-08 budget.

By law, the county has to have a balanced budget.

Approximately 70 percent of the total budget comes from federal and state sources and from fees and penalties tied to specific services; commissioners have some flexibility with the general fund.

About two-thirds of the general fund goes for public safety, including the sheriff’s office and county jail.

The amphitheater was privately built but leases land from the county; the commissioners have voted to cut lease payments because the amphitheater has not met its revenue targets.

Other estimated shortfalls are from public health fees ($500,000), Clark County fair funds ($600,000) and community development fees ($400,000.)

The community development fees reflect the estimated amount of money that the county will lose because of a “fee holiday” to spur development.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he expects that money will come back to the county in the form of sales taxes and property taxes.

“My expectation will be that we will see a positive return on investment,” Stuart.

Potential solutions offered by Dickman included redirecting real estate taxes previously allocated to the county’s road fund to pay off debt on the Clark County Event Center and to revisit public health fees.

The presentation was part of a mid-year financial report, and no action was taken by commissioners.

In addition to the red flags, Dickman placed a “yellow flag” on retail sales, which provide sales taxes to the general fund.