Clark County budget plan sees things looking up

Slight bump in revenue forecast for 2013-14

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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A first draft of Clark County's 2013-14 budget shows a slight rise in expected revenues, a marginally increased county general fund and no expectations that Clark County commissioners will approve a 1 percent property tax raise in the coming year.

The budget's overall message is that things are getting better in Clark County, but only by a bit.

"There has been slow improvement, with an emphasis on slow, that indicates we may be more stable," said Budget Director Jim Dickman. "But on revenues, we are close to 2003 levels. We're just coming off the bottom (of the recession.) Yes, it's an improvement, but we still aren't anywhere near the boom times."

The $874 million draft budget was made public Tuesday night. The budget is down 8 percent from the 2011-12 budget, but Dickman said that largely comes from a reorganization in mental health services that separates some funding from county control.

New expenditures over the previous budget include a $545,000 infusion of money to the county jail for mental health and safety upgrades. Those include new sprinkler heads and shower nozzles to reduce suicide attempts. The money is likely to be split across the 2011-12 and 2013-14 budgets.

The proposed budget also calls for a $72 million transportation improvement program to be implemented in the coming years. Dickman said the expenditure is made possible as a result of paying off certain county debts, which should keep expenses even from the past budget.

County department heads and elected officials presented their individual budgets to commissioners Wednesday. Most departments said they could maintain services at current funding levels.

Judges from the Clark County Superior Court lobbied for additional funding for a third courts commissioner, a position that was cut from the proposed budget. The position has gone unfilled for four years as the court attempted to save money, but

judges called the position critical for future operations. The position would cost $340,000over two years.

County Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart both said they are sympathetic to the court's concerns. The two agreed it is a matter to decide upon during public hearings.

The first public meeting on the budget is planned for Dec. 3.

Commissioner Marc Boldt was not in attendance at the Wednesday meetings as his mother died early Wednesday morning.

David Madore, who leads Boldt in the election for commissioner, attended the meeting as a member of the public.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;erik.hidle@columbian.com.