County leaders review priorities for 2012

Flat revenue seems likely, but layoffs shouldn’t be needed

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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No real surprises were in store for Clark County commissioners Friday when they met with Administrator Bill Barron and senior staffers for an annual retreat.

The three-hour meeting at Legacy Salmon Creek was for commissioners, who set county policy, to give Barron guidance on what should be the priorities for 2012.

Budget Director Jim Dickman called the general fund budget “stable but still fragile.” He said that since the county remains behind the national average in economic recovery, he predicts a flat revenue forecast for the 2013-14 budget.

The county’s general fund budget, projected at $280 million for two years, has been cut by $62 million since the 2007-08 budget.

Expenses were further decreased by reducing the hours and pay of about 200 employees after 270 positions were cut. Most employees started paying 7 percent of their health insurance premiums this month, which will save the county $1.6 million.

Those savings mean the county’s not in a position to have to do layoffs, said Deputy Administrator Glenn Olson.

Olson has been leading an effort to bring costs in line with revenues, which have slowed permanently.

The money the county lost with the repeal of the state motor vehicle excise tax a decade ago was masked by the housing boom; when the housing market crashed, the reality of county revenues settled in, Olson said.

If budget cuts are needed, Commissioner Steve Stuart said, he’s tired of cutting budgets for departments and would rather eliminate nonessential services than trim essential ones such as public safety.

“It’s a tough conversation,” Stuart said. “We’ve avoided it.”

Among the elements of a “cost control plan” will be a pilot project to develop an incentive program for employees to identify ways to save money. Measures that prove effective could come with a cash award.

Commissioners were also briefed Friday on goals set by department directors.

One key goal from the environmental services department was the target of a recent federal injunction. A U.S. District judge ruled the county must comply with state stormwater guidelines while the county’s controversial plan for managing runoff remains tied up in a legal battle, and commissioners have expressed concerns about the costs and how the stringent rules might delay or deter development projects.

The meeting finished before commissioners could meet in executive session to discuss Barron’s performance and decide if he will receive a raise.

Commissioner Marc Boldt said that discussion will happen Wednesday.

Barron currently makes $174,252 a year and receives an additional 7.25 percent for a deferred compensation program.

Commissioners received a $2,000 raise last year, which they gave back to the general fund, and a $2,000 raise for 2012, which they have pledged to give to charities.

The 2012 raise boosted their annual salary to $102,228.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;stephanie.rice@columbian.com.